In the first major Phnom Penh “street sweep” of 2015, 80 people in Daun Penh district were rounded up by force in the early hours of yesterday morning, with many sent on to the city’s notorious Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre.
Daun Penh District Governor Kouch Chamroeun said mixed security forces rounded up the group, which included “49 homeless people, 19 sex workers and 12 drug users”.
“We collected them from the places they stay – along the street near the pagodas, and in the parks,” he said.
Chamroeun said the roundup was part of an effort to “prepare public order” for a major event in the city. While he did not comment further, former Senate President Chea Sim’s funeral and the Queen Mother’s birthday are both upcoming events.
Sos Vat, a 40-year-old homeless man who stays next to the Royal Palace, said he narrowly avoided arrest.
“While I was sleeping at the park, my son told me that there are many guards coming. I was so worried,” he said.
“I brought my son to run away. I was scared because I don’t want to go to Prey Speu again,” he added, explaining that he was sent to the facility after being arrested last year.
Son Sophal, director of Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department, said he was contacting NGOs to offer “shelter and education” for the group.
But Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), one of two NGOs partnered with the city’s efforts, said it had heard no reports of recent “street sweeps”.
“Last year, November 2014, was our last time to welcome children from streets,” said PSE’s deputy program director Ouk Sovan.
The other NGO, Mith Samlanh, could not be reached yesterday.
A member of staff at Prey Speu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said two trucks arrived at the facility yesterday morning with more than 55 people on board. “A lot homeless people [arrived] today. Now they are in Prey Speu,” he said yesterday. “They haven’t escaped yet – most of them are staying in a room together.”
Over the past year, hundreds of people have been sent to the notorious facility after being rounded up as part of the city’s efforts to “clean” the streets.
Since it opened in 2004, numerous allegations of abuse, rape and even murder have emerged from the centre.
In December, Post reporters witnessed a “resident” at the centre being beaten by a member of staff, while just days earlier, a man who had been detained there for weeks died after allegedly being denied medical treatment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY