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Orphans left without hope

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A man rides down the road in front of the Hope for Cambodian Children orphanage in Battambang province last week.

If they want to stay they can, but they will have no food and no money

More than 30 residents of an Australian-run orphanage in Battambang protested at the facility again yesterday morning, after learning that many of those who had participated in an August 2 demonstration would be sent back to their communities within 12 hours.

The director of Hope for Cambodian Children, Dy Samrach, said 24 youths were being sent out of the orphanage because of a new policy requiring residents aged 18 or older to be reintegrated into their communities.

But she also suggested that financial woes and drug use by the youths were factors.

“I have no choice. If I have no funds, what can I do?” Dy Samrath said.

“If they want to stay here, they can, but they will have no food and no money for their studies.”

This decision was reached  following an earlier protest during which residents of the orphanage said they were not getting enough food or money for school fees and alleged that some managers were corrupt.

Yesterday, some of those being sent away were alarmed  about the future.

“I do not know where to live because I have no parents,” Im Kimthieng, 19, said.

He urged on the orphanage to honour what he called its agreement to allow children to remain at the facility until they finished high school.

Some of the youths dismissed from the orphanage yesterday were also accused of using drugs, a claim Im Kimthieng denied. “If we used drugs, why didn’t they ask the police to investigate us?” he said.

The conflict at the orphanage has resulted in five social workers there being suspended after the August 2 protest.

The protest was investigated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“OHCHR is closely following the matter and has urged the centre’s management to consider the claims of the children carefully,” the organisation said yesterday.

The disagreement also foll-ows concerns about the eff-ects of a surge in the number of orphanages in Cambodia, the quality of care they offer and the claims they make about their programs.

In its fund-raising materials, the Australian  foundat-ion that funds the orphanage suggests most of its residents are either HIV-positive or have lost their parents to AIDS.

Dy Samrach said, however, that only 13 of the 134 residents of the orphanage were HIV-positive.

Richard Bridle, Unicef’s country representative for Cambodia, called for better monitoring of orphanages.

“Although regular monitoring and reporting is taking place, this needs to be strengthened in order to regulate the use and conditions of residential care, and ensure that all residential facilities meet national and internat-ional standards,” he said.

A spokesperson for Friends International echoed Unicef’s call, urging donors to think carefully about the immediate and long-term impacts of the assistance they offered.

“Any organisation that is caring for children should have policies, procedures and regulations in effect to ensure that the duty of caring for children meets both their immediate and long-term needs,” Friends said.

Heng Chaiden said the centre had made a long-term commitment to allow him to stay the centre until he finished high school.

“We haven’t finished our studies. Where can we live to continue school?” he asked.

“Some of us don’t have parents. We don’t have jobs. Who can we depend on?”  

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT MACISAAC

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