Police forcibly removed a dozen of the city’s homeless – four of them children – from the streets of central Phnom Penh yesterday, carting them off to the notorious Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre, where two people died last November.
While such “round-ups” routinely intensify before weeks of celebration – such as Khmer New Year and the Water Festival – police and municipal authorities denied this latest wave of collections was linked to the upcoming holiday for the King’s birthday.
Instead, they said, it was part of an ongoing campaign to beautify the streets.
Chamkarmon district governor Prom Somkhan confirmed beggars were “cleared” near intersections yesterday morning.
“It is too bad for our beautiful Phnom Penh to have beggars out standing at the traffic lights,” Somkhan said.
The Daun Penh deputy district police chief, Yos Yuthy, said his officers round up between 10 and 20 homeless people three times per week, having collected just shy of 300 since January.
Meas Chanyada, administrative director of Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, defended the sweeps, but admitted detainees were cycled back onto the streets after a stint at Prey Speu.
“We cannot let them beg at … public places; it is our country’s image. It is bad when foreign tourists see it,” he said.
“We don’t discriminate against them, but they don’t look good – it is anarchy; it is messy.”
According to Touch Channy, director-general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, no changes have yet been made in the wake of consistent and vehement calls to close the centre, apart from re-naming it “Phnom Penh Transit Centre” (the institution was formerly rebranded as Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre).
He cited building toilets and sleeping quarters as the most urgent measures, and while two working groups had been set up to research detainees’ needs, “we have not got any results yet”.
“We know what we need to renovate; but the actual report has not yet been sent to me,” Channy said.
Friends International, which is working with the government to offer support to street people both in and out of Prey Speu, said round-ups did more harm than good by interfering with the NGO’s street research.
“We don’t want to see anyone on the street, but there is a lot of work to be done,” said Vuthy Sokhna, the NGO’s communications officer.
“When the government just rounds them up and puts them into Prey Speu … that is not a sustainable solution. We need to provide a job, school or placement – something for them to have a better future,” he said.