Ger area redevelopment project leaves people homeless

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In order to reduce air, soil and environmental pollution in Ulaanbaatar, and to ensure a healthy and safe living environment for citizens, urban redevelopment projects and programs have been implemented since 2013. Out of a total of 51 projects, 26 projects (77 buildings) will be renovated, covering 1,516,600 hectares in 25 locations and 76 former ger districts land, according to the main plan. Of these, 25 buildings of 531 families were demolished, and 1,176 families have vacated land for redevelopment projects.

A decision to redevelop and reconstruct 344 non-compliant buildings was made and the project has been running for six years. As a result, many families have moved into comfortable housing and an improvement to the living environment was observed. However, a study by Amnesty International Mongolia found that there were serious violations of property and other rights during the redevelopment process.

As part of the redevelopment, a total 1,899 families have vacated their land in the past. As of the first half of 2020, 1,443 of these families were housed in apartments, 243 were renting apartments, 182 were in temporary apartments, 38 gained ownership of new apartments, and the living condition of 164 households had deteriorated.

The government selects a redevelopment company. In doing so, 80 percent of the residents must support the company. However, the rights of the remaining families and people are seriously violated. In other words, the rights of the other 20 percent are violated, but nobody tries to address this problem.

A representative of the victims, P.Davaanyam (a former owner of an old two-story building in ger area), reported about his family’s problems. In 2019, people from a private project broke into his home and forcibly evicted him, loading up his furniture and belongings. Though the attack on his private property has not yet been investigated by the authority, but he has been fined under the Law on Infringements for recording footages of the attack.

“Similarly, individuals who do not support the project are often harassed and attacked by private companies. Also, redevelopment companies mislead people by saying that almost everyone in your area has signed and only you are left behind. In this way, they deliberately create chaos by confusing and dividing people.”

“Due to lack of information, people panic and sign the agreement quickly. As a result, many people became homeless and not able to receive social services. However, there is no government oversight. When people ask questions, they refer to the company to find a solution,” P.Davaanyam highlighted.

Head of Land Owner Rich Heart Partnership B.Nyamjav said, “In 4th khoroo of Bayanzurkh District alone, 15 people have died since the redevelopment began. According to the survey, contacted households that failed to relocate spent an average of 19.5 million MNT on rent, 5.8 million MNT on furniture and 6.5 million MNT on schools and kindergartens.”

“In addition, the social life and educational quality of the children in the family changed dramatically, leading to depression and stress. As a result, children become socailly anxious. The study found that the some children’s anxiety levels were at pre-suicide levels.”

“Therefore, the government must pay special attention to redevelopment and correct these problems. Although many laws and regulations have been enacted in this area, their implementation in practice is insufficient. Implementers lack human rights awareness. It is also important to create opportunities for further re-planning in line with human rights-based approaches and human rights principles, to engage in real consultation with citizens, and to encourage citizen participation.”

People who have been involved in the ger redevelopment project but have not yet been able to move to new apartments as promised are facing emotional and economic damage.

Six years into the program, most of the affected households are still living in rented rooms and other temporary housing. For more than two months, the Psychology Department at the National University of Mongolia, Amnesty International, and the National Human Rights Commission have been studying the impact on the project on the children of affected families, often finding signs of poor health and psychological distress. The research was conducted by students of the National University of Mongolia B.Munkhtsetseg and P.Buyankhishig conducted the research.

B.Munkhtsetseg said, “We surveyed 25 children aged 10 to 18 living in temporary apartments provided by the government in 11th khoroo of Sukhbaatar District. The study found that children from families that participated in the redevelopment project were more likely to be depressed. There are also children who have lost their parents since the project began. There was a young girl who took care of her two younger brothers. There is an example of a girl who lives in constant fear of not knowing when she will be forced to leave her temporary apartment. The level of anxiety is expressed as 0 to 4. Children with low levels of anxiety are close to 0, while children with high levels of anxiety are close to 3-4. According to the survey, the anxiety level of children living in normal conditions is 1.87, while the anxiety level of children affected by redevelopment is 3.13. This shows that these children have a serious mental health problem. Homeless children affected by redevelopment have psychological problems. If this continues, as adults, they are more likely to become aggressive, irritable, and socially isolated. It is clear that the loss of desire to live may put them at risk of suicide. Therefore, these children need psychological and physical help.”

P.Buyankhishig highlighted, “Although redevelopment is good, the society does not know exactly what is happening behind closed doors. Children affected by redevelopment were not only psychologically harmed. All the conditions for school, health care, and living in a healthy and safe environment are being lost. They are in a very difficult psychological situation. For example, there was a family with two children, aged 17 and 19. They moved six times. His mother changed jobs three times. Her two children changed schools six times. They have taken out three bank loans. Another family has an eight-year-old son. His school is in Takhilt. His parents live in the city center. The son comes to visit his parents only on Saturdays and Sundays after school. The boy is growing up lacking the love and care he needs from his parents.”

Research shows that people living in ger areas face many similar problems. Citizens report the issue, but nobody pays attention.

In October last year, people who have been involved in the ger redevelopment project but have not been provided an apartments as agreed, reported about their situation. Ikh Urguu LLC was appointed as the project implementer of the ger area land redevelopment project by the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Decree No.337 in 2014.

During the ger redevelopment project, the company demolished seven buildings in Bayanzurkh District’s 4th khoroo and Sansar Town that did not meet operational requirements, and signed a tripartite agreement with 85 families to provide apartments in exchange for land. The apartments were supposed to be commissioned in 2015. However, the project was revoked, due to repeated violations during the project implementation period. Due to the fact that the interests of 85 families have been affected, people are being housed in temporary apartments owned by the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office until the next project implementer is selected.

An affected citizen said, “This situation has not been resolved for seven years. We approached many people to no avail. We want it to be resolved according to the terms of the contract. People should not be harmed in this way for many years.” Five months have passed since the authorities promised to resolve the problem in time.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) held a joint consultation meeting with relevant civil society and international organizations and government agencies on redevelopment and human rights in May 2019, calling for immediate action to compensate those who lost their land and immovable property as part of urban planning projects. From the first discussion, it was stated that in order to improve the legal regulation of urban development relations, it is necessary to vacate land and demolish real estate if citizens are provided with housing, and to be fully responsible for government and other organizations and companies that fail to provide housing within the agreed time.

In other words, the fact that human rights violations related to redevelopment are included in the NHRC’s report as a special group is an alarming sign. However, during the second discussion, the NHRC reported that the issue had been discussed at the meetings of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, but no decision had been made. This is due to the fact that Mongolia does not consider mental health damage to be a real problem, Amnesty International said during the discussion. Psychologists warn that the relevant higher authorities need to pay attention to the fact that mental health has a significant impact on a child’s outlook, future and personality.

According to a study by Amnesty International, the lack of clear and adequate government regulation and lack of oversight have led to violations of the rights of people who participated in redevelopment projects. The study also noted that a redevelopment project has begun in Ulaanbaatar, but has been hampered by delays in the implementation of relevant laws and policies.

In addition, the authorized organizations ordered residents to obtain compensation from private companies. As a result, it is not clear how compensation will be negotiated, and the people affected by the above-mentioned redevelopment are left confused about their entitlement and rights. However, the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office has not completely coordinated and monitored the process, and has not effectively protected citizens’ rights to affordable housing.

The lack of information on compensation and resettlement in the implementation of the Ulaanbaatar redevelopment program violated international standards for practical consultation. Consultation and public participation are recognized as fundamental principles in other legal documents on redevelopment. In practice, however, the relevant information was often not open to the public.

The lack of practical consultation with residents has led to confusion as to whether they can reject the proposed redevelopment project and price offer. For example, residents felt that they had no choice because the government had initiated the redevelopment program, so they had to negotiate a contract with a construction company licensed to implement a partial redevelopment plan on site.

Thousands of people have been affected by the redevelopment program in Ulaanbaatar, which violates basic international standards, norms, practices and human right.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar