Why has Miri more squatter settlements than other towns in Sarawak? Why does Sarawak have squatter settlement when land is plentiful ? Why are some squatter areas more easily demolished than others?
Since the discovery of oil in Miri in 1910 thousands of rural people have moved to Miri looking for jobs . As they have no access to cheap and available housing,they construct houses which "squat" on vacant public land like Padang Kerbau which in the 1910's was the peripheral land just outside Miri town . There is a river behind which supplies water and an easy means of transport as well as a good source of food and indeed the squatters can even walk home after their day's walk. Very convenient indeed.
Many squatters lived on Canada Hill before the 1990's. But that is part of history now as fires and political motives had moved them all away.
Usually these squatters have little resources, financial or otherwise, skills or access to them, the drastic option of illegally occupying a vacant piece of land to build a rudimentary shelter is the only one available to them. The problem is further compounded by the apathy and even anti-pathy of various government agencies who view the "invasion" of urban areas by "the masses" and the development of squatter settlements as a social "evil" that has to be "eradicated".
Such a confusing and knee-jerk reaction and attitude towards squatter settlements has not helped the more basic question of "adequate housing for all" as proclaimed by all the Malaysia Plans of our country.
A visit to any squatter settlement in Miri would reveal the lack of electricity and water supply and roads and drainage. Some of the huts are actually no better than chicken coops.
Indeed rumours also said that some one actually had attempted to burn down those houses for a housing project!!
But a fire like this one has left 17 families homeless and many children desperate about their future. Most of them were thrown out of their comfort zone and had to be housed by the Red Crescent Organisation for several days. Mainly illiterate the women folk suffer the most especially when many of them depend on daily wages from their husbands. If they are single mothers it is harder as they have to fend for themselves.Many women are working as daily paid cleaners or grass cutters and they will have to forego a few days' earning just to be with the children. Having no roof over their heads is now their biggest worry!!
According to one lady she managed to split her kids up amongst a few relatives while she works but then the children cannot go to school because their relatives live too far from the Padang Kerbau Primary School. Bus fares can eat up 1/4 of her wages. (School buses are 80 ringgit on an average per child per month. A cleaner earns up to RM400 - 600 a month) So it is very often you see a man riding a motor cycle with three kids on his bike in Miri.
It is most painful to see a sarong clad mother taking three kids to a primary school on a rainy day getting splashed all over by a speeding Mercedes driving past them.
The illiterate squatters put their thumbprints on these documents to acknowledge that they have received the cooking utensils from the Welfare Department.
Sad homeless people waiting around and thinking about their future. A cigarette in hand is the only comfort now.
"Where can I put my head tonight?"
This lady is probably thinking about desperate measures with a sleeping baby in her arms.
A man receiving a very light box containing aluminium cooking utensils from the Welfare Department.