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UN: Stop detaining the homeless in Prey Speu

The United Nations’ human rights office told Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong on Wednesday that the notorious Prey Speu vocational training centre should no longer be used to detain the city’s homeless.

The UN is also trying to secure the relocation of some of the centre’s permanent residents – a handful of elderly and mentally ill people – to better accommodation, the office said yesterday.

Dozens of the city’s destitute have been arbitrarily detained at the centre following numerous street sweeps in recent months. A group of 21 rounded up last Sunday, including children as young as 1 year old, were taken to the facility and locked in a single room without a toilet. UN rights officials arrived the next day, allowing most to return to the city.

UN rights representative Wan Hea-Lee said that she suggested alternative ways to deal with the city’s homeless and for im-proving facilities at Prey Speu during a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.

“I stressed with the governor that social affairs centres should not be used to lock people up. He did not disagree. He took note of my suggestions and ultimately neither confirmed [nor] denied that street sweeps would continue,” she said.

In a statement posted on the municipality’s Facebook page after the meeting, Socheatvong said street sweeps would not end.

Representatives of NGOs that are meant to be working with the government said they had not

been informed about last week-end’s roundup.

In June, a source at the centre said that about half a dozen “mentally ill and elderly people” permanently lived at Prey Speu.

Lee said yesterday that her office did not believe they are “being detained under coercion”.

She added that a few individuals with psychosocial disabilities who were rounded up last weekend had not been allowed to leave.

“[The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] is attentive to the need to secure not only their release from substandard facilities but also their release to appropriate care,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Social Affairs Department pledged to continue using Prey Speu as a holding centre, but City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche could not confirm yesterday whether that was the case.

He also denied claims that children had been detained there.

“The governor explained to [Lee] that so far the work of Phnom Penh Municipality has overlapped with the ministry [of social affairs] over the management of Prey Speu. From now on, the City Hall will take over it,” he said.

Additional reporting Chhay Channyda.

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