May 25, 2011

Disappearing Miri : Squatters' Homes Fire @ Pujut Corner

Fires frequently occur in old squatter areas in Miri. In fact Miri has the largest squatter community in the whole of Sarawak. Miri squatter areas which are very famous are Pujut Corner, Padang Kerbau and Kampong Api Api. There are several riverine squatter settlements along the Miri River and Adong River.

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.

Parts of the 17 homes which were razed by the morning fire on 18th May 2011. (24 victims from 5 families were accommodated at a Relief Centre set up by the Miri Red Crescent Disaster management Sub-Committee). the youngest fire victim was 1 year old.



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?"


What next?




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.

This lady feels rather lost...watching what the others are doing...waiting....waiting....
According to the people standing around only the Police know the cause of the fire. What would happen to these poor people? Donations have been given from the public and certain political groups. Definitely they cannot afford to rebuild on this land which most probably has been "earmarked" for some kind of project.
The public will have the chance to observe what happens next to the land while the squatters will move into the twilight zone of the helpless and the hapless leaving behind  17 thumbprints on official papers..furthermore with unknown addresses........

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

its the case of poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer......why cant the govt or the local council gives them proper housing and schooling.........its a very sad case....guess things will be different for them if the elections were to be held now....
We all need to share and help those who are more unfortunate than us...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes..there is a lot of community work to be done. Sarawak needs all the help she needs to make it even better. It is good if every citizen is like you. thanks.

Ann said...

You should ask your Uncle Najit to build good housing.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Good housing is in the hands of the rich and famous..pirvate development. A semi D is unafforable now in Miri...RM500 000! Bungalowsw are roughly 2 million....

Condos around three quarter million depending on location...There is no such thing as low cost housing..all are above 150 000 ringgit per unit...Toilets in rimary schools cost 200 000 ringgit per four units. Perhaps cement is too highly priced.

Ah Ngao said...

dear Sarawakiana,you're damn right! - good housing in the hands of the rich,famous or got kamcheng ones with " Merlin" .they have SHEDA,some so-called housing board in S'wak formed to help the consumers with housing ownerships/woes but they're only bullshit also( ta siao thung chert..!).in the 1st place,the land in the urban kuciang so damn expensive from the beginning(younno what i meant by the ,i.e since whose's era.everything was "moulded",from land ,building materials ,eg cement(younno know own cement manufacturing),steel...the same(younno who...).why i said everthing is so high/ becoz over in W.Malaysia,house were never that expensive as over here.those semi-d or corners at Jalan Song,Kuching here selling for 500-700k is the norm price.even double storey terrace selling for almost 400k now ! and so called low cost housing selling for 160k or 170k AND that is outskirt okey/ not near the town or cbd,its somewhere 16 or 17 miles away . even i think over in Miri last 5 years back,the house not that costly as in Kuching.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao...
We are having ripple effects every where in terms of costing...from the smallest nail to the most expensive roofing....every thing vosts too much.

I feel like cutting my own lumber. Sigh....but then each bag of cement is really already too expensive. No wonder people are stealing grills from the drains...and people's windows. ahem....

Anonymous said...

Heard some ibans in Miri complaining that DAP rep was not there to help. Instead George Chan was the one who turns up.!!

Anonymous said...

Government sponsored low cost housing has failed!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Complaints are definitely there..every where and before and after election. DAP was there and the newspapers in Chinese asked for donations . YB Fong Pau Teck and YB Ling were there. I don't know much about the rest of the follow up. But definitely the Welfare Dept also did the normal work. The Tan Sri has the whole Red Crescent Machinery to help him so this is the normal modus operandi here. Photos. Bags of old clothes. food and rice especially and the works.
Can't say much about the whole fire incident because I was there the next day for a short while only. The fire victims were stunned and worried more than anything else. More important for them to get all their personal documents so that they could find work!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...I am not sure if there is such a thing as "government housing".

Ah Ngao said...

dear anonymous 12:35 am , can't totally blame DAP
rep for not there in time( DAP bo lui ma ... ). GC must turn up first if not,cut the que becoz GC owes the Mirians ribu ribuan gratitudes or very much "indebt" to the Mirians or Sarawakian for puting him on the round table with the rich and famous. you see Singapore,i happened to switch on the TV, ngam ngam Mr Lee Kuan Yew was addressing or talking and his last parting words really,i meant REALLY touches my heart & soul - he said " I'll continue to look after you.." waaa...that way of talking makes me FEEEEL Good lah man ! ! so what do you get from M'sian leader or leaders ?? you tolong i lah,nanti i balu tolong lu lah... Ini maciam bo ,huh ? ? !@#5!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao...A politician should be magnanimous and gracious at all times. Our YB must have many characteristics : handsome like Clinton - smart like Lee Kuan Yew - Acceptable like Wen Jia Bao...Sincere like Abraham Lincoln..dedicated like Martin Luther King - strong but patient like Mahatma Gandhi ...Spiritual like the Dalai Lama...but my list is different from your list and I only have one vote!! But " the you tolong me first and then I tolong you later type" will not go very far.

Ann said...

when I was growing up, govt housing or govt quarters were for civil servants. I lived most of my growing up years in a Government quarter.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
The old Sarawak Govt quarters are almost all gone. New Style multi storeyed govt housing have been mushrooming every where...with lots of security at gates....change of guards...The old government quarters have been sitting on prime land. Conclusion?

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