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Children freed from Prey Speu after MP visit

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People sit on the steps of a building at Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre on Tuesday afternoon, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, after they were rounded up by authorities during recent weeks. Pha Lina

Children freed from Prey Speu after MP visit

After opening its gates on Tuesday afternoon for a visit by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, the capital’s notorious Prey Speu detention centre yesterday freed a number of children, while others remained incarcerated despite relatives’ pleas for their release.

Eighty-nine people, including a number of young children, were imprisoned at Prey Speu – or Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre as it is now officially known – this week, having been rounded up from the city’s streets.

Officials claimed that “90 per cent” of them were “mentally ill”, while others had no home or family.

Mith Samlanh, one of two local NGO’s partnered with the “street sweeps”, yesterday took in five families from the centre, including seven young children between 1 and 3 years old.

On Tuesday night, the Municipal Social Affairs Department “called quite late and asked if we could take them in”, said James Sutherland, a communications coordinator at Friends International, which works with Mith Samlanh.

“Mith Samlanh now have them in their transitional home so we can assess the situation,” he added.

Sutherland said the length of stay for the families will “depend entirely on their individual circumstances”.

Despite the continued use of Prey Speu as a dumping ground for those rounded up, Sutherland said the NGO was “dedicated to trying to make it [the partnership with City Hall] work”.

“We’ve signed an MoU [memorandum of understanding], and we’re very much dedicated to getting that working . . . and finding long-term solutions”.

The other NGO involved, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, said it had not been asked to take in anyone from Prey Speu.

While some inmates were released from the centre yesterday, others remained incarcerated despite calls from their relatives to let them go.

Forty-three-year-old Ly Srey Noch said her sister, Ly Srey Pich, 30, was still detained at Prey Speu yesterday afternoon.

“She doesn’t have a mental illness, she is just homeless,” she said, adding that Srey Pich had been held at the facility for a few weeks already.

“The centre promised to free her when I met with Ke Sovannaroth [a CNRP lawmaker], but she is still there now,” she said.

A 46-year-old man who gave his name only as Van said his brother was also still detained at the centre.

Son Sophal, director of the Social Affairs Department, said he doubted some of the claims that people were related to the detainees, and was keeping them imprisoned for their own protection.

“We are afraid of them taking those detainees to do something bad,” he said.

Sovannaroth said she expected everyone in Prey Speu to be released when alternative care was arranged.

“They promised us they will free them,” she said.

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