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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Penh's homeless being swept away

Phnom Penh's homeless being swept away

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A failed rice crop is cut for fodder in Kandal province.

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara has announced he will "rescue poor people"

by removing all homeless families, drug addicts and street children from the city's

streets before the ASEAN summit in early November. The decision has angered professionals

whose work involves street children, urbanization and human rights.

"I will force all homeless to leave the streets - we have already started doing

this and will take more action," Sophara told the Post. "I want to clean

up the city and beautify it before the ASEAN summit and rescue these people from

their poor conditions.

"I have a plan to rescue the poorest who don't have shelters. We want to solve

this problem by sending them to their original provinces with transport and food,"

he said. "If they don't want to go to the provinces we will provide a plot of

land near Anlong Kngann for them."

Sophara said the municipality had already started rounding up street children and

would continue to do so "because they have no meaning there - they need to go

to school".

The street children would be sent to schools, orphanages, or the Chom Chao youth

rehabilitation center near Pochentong Airport.

At a meeting on July 22 the governor asked the city's department of social affairs

to prepare a list of children who were not attending school so they could be sent

to classes in time for the new academic year.

Deputy director of the department, Suon Chhoeung, said his staff had begin surveying

the number and education levels of street children, but had not started removing

them as per the directive.

Sébastien Marot, coordinator at street children's NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends,

said around 1,200 children lived alone on the streets. He said the directive was

ruining his organization's work.

"Since Sophara's declaration last week, the [municipal] police have started

following our teams who were working with the kids on the streets. As soon as the

teams left, they arrested all the kids," Marot said. "This is totally destroying

the work we are trying to establish with the kids for a long-term solution."

Marot said Friends would complain to donors and the municipality.

"They have an objective and I understand why [the governor] wants to do this,

but I don't agree with the way it is being done - by using NGOs to get to the kids,"

he said. "The solution is not repression, it is long-term development."

The proposed forced relocations have also shocked the UN and the opposition Sam Rainsy

Party. Peter Swan, an advisor at the UN's urban development arm UN Habitat, said

he was alarmed at "this potential policy" of the municipality and said

it would be extremely negative for the image of Phnom Penh and Cambodia.

"Any apprehension or unwilling relocation of people is a breach of their civil

liberties and human rights," Swan said.

UN Human Rights spokesperson, Francesca Marotta, told the Post that, "if this

is the case it is very disturbing and could potentially put Cambodia in breach of

its international human rights' obligations."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Chea Sophara's plan was an artificial way of hiding

facts and reminiscent of practices in countries like North Korea.

"We should not resort to window-dressing to mask and hide the situation when

underneath the veneer it is very bad," he said. "I think the government

should instead concentrate on finding solutions to the problems of homeless, jobless

and destitute people and not get rid of them by sending them to the countryside."

Friends' Marot said street children had been forcibly relocated to the provinces

since March.

"We see it happening on the streets. The kids are being taken from the streets

and dumped in Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang provinces," he said. "The

Sangkat officials got their orders in March."

The municipality's Chhoeung confirmed that relocations had been taking place for

some time.

"We collect homeless people and their children who are living in the streets

and public areas every day in cooperation with the district authorities because they

affect social order in Phnom Penh," he said. "We send them to the provinces.

On July 3 we sent 200 people."

The minutes from the muni-cipality's July 22 meeting also forbade "gifts"

to newly-arrived, destitute people. Sophara said this referred to those who were

encouraged to travel from their home provinces to receive welfare.

"If NGOs want to distribute welfare or food, please distribute to people's homes

in the provinces," he said.

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