With a number of homeless, beggars and street sellers who were rounded up in caged vans last week still unaccounted for, several of those targeted by the street sweep claimed yesterday that they had been held in Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Speu social affairs centre.
Homeless people on the capital’s riverside gave the Post separate accounts of being hauled into a van and driven to Prey Speu – a training centre that has faced allegations of abuse – where meals were meagre and conditions uncomfortable.
Authorities strongly denied the claims.
Forty-five-year-old Ouk Savern, who has lived on the streets for the past 25 years, recalled being driven in a caged van to Por Sen Chey district and into Prey Speu.
“I escaped because I could not live there. The meals were small, and I am too old to train to do something new,” she said.
The walls at Prey Speu are low enough to climb over, as demonstrated in January 2012 when a group of women and children from Borei Keila escaped after being detained during a protest.
Savern said that since last week’s roundup, the streets had been much quieter.
“Some of my friends haven’t come back, because they’re scared and some might have stayed [at Prey Speu].”
Oy Eng, a 63-year-old beggar, claimed that she was also taken to Prey Speu.
“The authorities couldn’t find a suitable place for us, so they took us there,” she said.
An 8-year-old boy also said he was taken to Prey Speu but returned to the streets days later.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at Licadho, said he would not be surprised if authorities had used the centre.
“Generally, NGOs have a policy to accept orphan children to live and stay there, but [not] homeless adults. We saw that some of the homeless people rounded up last week were older, so they would have been sent back to the Social Affairs Department, and the department would have found a place for them [that might have been] Prey Speu,” he said.
But Son Sophal, a director of the Social Affairs Department, said all “38 people” rounded up were sent to Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE).
“There are now more than 30 people at PSE,” he said, adding that since 2012, Prey Speu had only taken in the mentally ill.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche also said that all of those rounded up were sent to PSE, adding that the initiative had not been suspended but that its first phase had been completed.
However, Ouk Sovan, PSE’s deputy program director, said the NGO was providing help, including education and free meals, to just 13 children from the initiative.
Sovan said PSE would meet City Hall on Friday to discuss an alternative to last week’s roundups.