Beggars, street sellers, and homeless adults and children in Phnom Penh were rounded up yesterday morning and hauled into caged vans, while many more hid to evade capture.
The roundup came a day after a directive signed by Deputy Governor Seng Ratanak was issued, ordering 12 district governors and the municipal social affairs department to remove homeless people from public areas.
At about 9am, police forcefully took people from the streets of the capital. They were put into vans and taken to the police station before being transferred into the custody of NGOs.
“They are at risk of labour exploitation and human trafficking, and we need public order,” Ratanak said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed that the roundup was well under way.
“We are working to totally clear [the streets].… We started to round them up after the order was released. They will find help from NGOs through education and training,” he said.
But many said the help was unwanted. A 14-year-old flower seller, who asked not to be named, told the Post that since his mother died, his income had been crucial to his and his father’s survival.
“I help to sell [jasmine] flowers. If I can sell a lot each day, I will get a lot of tips to buy food with,” he said.
But after hearing about City Hall’s directive, he said he was too scared to return to his job.
“I heard from my friend, a street boy, that the authorities will round us up. I am so afraid.”
Thirty-seven-year-old beggar Sam Sros said that after seeing a friend arrested yesterday morning she and her two children went into hiding.
“I hid after I saw my friend was arrested by authorities. We did not do anything wrong or commit any crime. We only beg to get some money to buy food for our children,” she said.
A 47-year-old homeless beggar, who declined to be named, was angry with city authorities.
“We just need a little money to buy food.… Since the [directive], it is difficult for us to walk into public areas to beg,” he said.
Pour un sourire d’enfant (PSE), one of the partner NGOs charged with monitoring and educating those rounded up, voiced concerns about the authorities’ approach.
“They need to improve the way to gathering people,” said Ouk Sovan, deputy program director at PSE.
Sovan said that in total, PSE received 13 children rounded up from Russian Boulevard yesterday, where he said the authorities would continue to collect people today.
“The role of PSE will [be to] support all street children in necessary means to integrate back [into] society.… We are assessing each child to identify their problem then provide necessary solutions such as health support, education, accommodation, food, protection, vocational school for young people, support their family [and] income generation,” Sovan said.
But opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he sees the measures as merely “cosmetic”.
“It doesn’t address the root of the problem.… The government has shown irresponsibility, sweeping these people away, and we condemn it. This is not the solution; it is unfair and cruel,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY