Woman with children in front of a shed

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Smor San

Steff Gruber | Cambodia

Smor San is a community that lives in a cemetery in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. The inhabitants have constructed makeshift houses on top of tombs and coffins, or inhabited vacant burial chambers. Here they eat dinner, watch TV, hang clothes to dry, care for their kids, and sleep – just centimeters away from the dead.
Many residents erected their homes in the 1990s. Since then, the number of residents has steadily increased. Some people moved into the cemetery after sand dredging had led to the collapse of their houses on the riverbank, while others were evicted from nearby land to make way for a new market. Today around 500 people live in the cemetery, which has about 200 graves and is still visited by relatives of the deceased.

The documentation of life in Smor San is part of an ongoing long-term project on the landless poor communities in Cambodia.
Four decades after the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime abolished private property and destroyed all land records, Cambodia is experiencing a real estate boom. Over the years, the capital's slums have been cleared - sometimes violently - and the poor population dispersed to larger settlements on the outskirts of the city, where sanitation, electricity, jobs, schools and health care are harder to find.
Squatters and other urban poor constitute 25% of the 2.3 million population of Phnom Penh. The nearly 300 informal settlements often consist of precarious, makeshift housing and lack of land security.

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