Patterns of squatting in Phnom Penh : an evaluation of the socio-economic characteristics of squatters and their reasons for squatting
There is a dominant theoretical perception that squatter settlements in cities of most developing countries result from the mass migration of the poor, rural population to urban areas where they mostly end up squatting. Many observers believe most squatters to be new, rural to urban migrants who fail to earn enough to support themselves - especially within urban legal or formal housing markets. Such a belief also often prompts government authorities to take firm action against squatter settlers. The action is often forceful and cruel, like squatter demolition and eviction, and can even extend to governments restricting movement from rural to urban areas through their migration policies. The aim of this study is to test the above conceptual views through an examination of squatter settlements in Phnom Penh city. It is based on the two hypotheses that the main reason for squatting is for reasons other than searching for cheaper accommodation; and secondly that most squatters are not poor, new, rural to urban migrants. In other words, there is no relationship between squatting and the status of squatters' migration and level of wealth. Unlike the dominant theoretical views mentioned earlier, the findings of this study shows that in the case of squatter settlements in Phnom Penh city most squatters are long-term and not necessarily the poorest residents compared to slum dwellers and even the rest of the urban population. Thus, new rural-Phnom Penh migrants are not the main cause of the existence and growth of the city's squatter settlements. It further shows that most squatters are only the indirect squatters (rented tenants and buyers), which implies that squatter landlords invade the land for mere commercial purposes rather than in a search for cheaper accommodation. The study therefore suggests that the widely criticised government policies of demolition and eviction hardly touch the problems and only have effect on the indirect squatters. The direct squatters or land invaders, however, enjoy almost immunity of prosecution by land owners and the government and even if there is squatter evacuation programme, they do not suffer from such legal action since they have already made enough profits from selling and renting properties to the second squatter settlers (or indirect squatters).