Indian Catholic News

Vietnam's Hue slum a citadel of broken dreams

Govt plans to relocate ghetto within six years but inhabitants say stingy compensation package only applies to a minority.

 
Hue: 

Mary Nguyen Thi Hoa lives with her four relatives in a 24-square-meter house with rusting iron walls and a tin roof on the ramparts of the Imperial Citadel of Hue in Vietnam's Thua Thien Hue province.

The citadel, which is nearly 190 years old, served as the home of Vietnam's last imperial family, the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), and is now a top tourist draw.

Lacking proper sanitary facilities, Hoa's family are forced to dump their waste into an already polluted lake nearby. They eat and sleep on the cement floor and use paper fans to save money on energy bills.

As their shanty home is located on high, the 63-year-old has to navigate unforgiving cement steps to reach it each day. She said she has already had three falls but luckily didn't break any bones.

"We've lived in this cramped house for decades because we don't have any money to move," said the frail and thin Hoa, who dresses in rags and has stomach cancer.

Her parents erected a shelter on the ramparts after fleeing their home province of Ha Tinh in 1954 to escape persecution at the hands of the communists in the north. Later, their coffins were placed at the foot of the ramparts.

Hoa said local authorities turned a blind eye at the time because they were soldiers, allowing them to reside there temporarily in honor of their service to their country.

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, civilians like her father, who worked as a barber, stayed while others sought greener pastures.

Hoa, whose three brothers were killed by the communists during the 1968 Tet Offensive, inherited the shanty house when her parents died.

She now shares it with her daughter, two grandchildren and her elderly husband, who earns 150,000 dong (US$6.50) a day cutting hair.

There are an estimated 15,000 people from 4,200 households who live in the slums that line the moss-ridden ramparts, which span 11.5 kilometers in length and are 20 meters wide.

Most of the slum dwellers sell food on the streets, repair motorbikes, work at construction sites or markets, or do other irregular jobs for a living. Many fled their homes to escape floods and storms in the 1980s and 1990s. However, they are not legally allowed to build houses on this historic site.

The provincial government has plans to relocate them to new residential areas within six years starting this year as part of a national project to repair and preserve this historic complex in the ancient capital Hue, recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993.

The Thua Thien Hue daily newspaper reported in March that local authorities would finish relocating 523 households to new areas by Sept. 16 of this year.

The paper said the government would offer them land and compensate those who legally own properties there in accordance with the law.

It also said displaced people would receive financial aid of between 4.5 million and 7.5 million dong (US$195-325) per household to support their relocation.

The report further claimed they would be given at least 2 million dong a month so they could afford to rent homes within the next six months.

However, many have refused to move as they consider the compensation plan too narrow. Most would receive no aid as they lack ownership papers for their properties and exist bereft of identification documents.

Others say the money being touted falls far short of what they would need to build a new home.

Tran Ngoc Thuan, 69, said the authorities asked his five-member family to move elsewhere before they are granted 120 million dong for surrendering their property.

"If we follow their orders, we would have to borrow even more money from the bank to build a house, but we don't even have jobs to repay our outstanding debts let alone the interest," he said. "We are staring into the face of a never-ending debt trap."

Thuan suggested he was the product of a failing system if people of his age were forced to live in such squalid conditions, especially those with limited mobility who inhabit flats on higher floors that require traipsing up and down long flights of stairs each day.

Vo Thi Len, 75, has lived alone in a rusty iron shelter leaning against the citadel's ramparts since 1974.

Len said the government has promised to give her a 60-square-meter flat next year, provided she coughs up 80 million dong for it within the next decade or so.

The septuagenarian, who earns 30,000 dong ($1.29) a day as a street food vendor, described this as prohibitively expensive and beyond her means.

She said she struggles to live on the government's monthly allowance of 300,000 dong ($13), despite this being buttressed by 10 kilograms of rice provided by local nuns.

Len said she worries how she will make ends meet when she moves to her new home because, "I am old now, so I do not know what I can do to make a living."

Hoa said her family was informed they would be given a 60-square-meter plot of land to build a house on after they move.

Those who have lived in the area in accordance with the law for decades have been promised parcels of land in the new residential districts, while others are asked to buy flats in apartment blocks.

Hoa said she expects to get nothing for her property as she lacks ownership papers.

"We've got no idea how to make money to build a new home after we move," she said in a hushed voice. "We've worked hard all of our lives to have a dream house but it's still out of reach."

Source: UCAN

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