Authorities rounded up around 30 homeless people in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district late last week and sent most of them for detention in the notorious Prey Speu detention centre, despite mounting criticism regarding the human rights violations in the government facility.
According to a report from Daun Penh authorities issued yesterday, police imprisoned a total of 31 people in Prey Speu – or Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre – between Thursday and Saturday for living on the streets.
Seventeen people were arrested on Thursday at the park in front of the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom and Freedom Park, while another 14 were detained on Saturday from Wat Ounalom pagoda and from behind Norodom Elementary School.
“They have been sent by the Social Affairs Department for training to Prey Speu because they are not allowed to sleep on the streets to maintain public order,” the report said.
Most of the detainees are currently in the centre, while others have been taken in by local NGOs.
Lok Roth, who is currently homeless, said he was one of many who were almost included in the street sweep at Norodom Elementary School.
“I saw them coming and I ran,” Roth said.
“We have no place to stay because we are poor. How can we find a home to live in?”
Prey Speu has been plagued by allegations of abuse, rape and even murder since its opening in 2004.
It also recently came under fire after opposition lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth’s July 7 visit and repeated complaints from NGOs, which highlighted the beating of prisoners and the centre’s lack of food and proper sanitation.
Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong, however, said during a visit on July 17 that the government plans to improve conditions in the prison.
“We need to clean the city so there will be public order, but the authorities are developing this centre to improve it,” Socheatvong said.
He added that 10 more security guards will be hired to prevent break-outs, and a new park will be built to help detainees develop farming skills.
Vibol La, director of Pour Sourire d’Enfant, one of the two local NGOs working with the government on the street sweeps, said he was sceptical of the planned improvements.
“There needs to be more information on what exactly these improvements are,” La said.
“But we’re hoping that what they have planned will allow prisoners to easily integrate back to society after detention and that they will better observe the human rights of the people living there.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SARAH TAGUIAM