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City wants homeless gone

A young boy carries rubbish on his back in Chroy Changvar district last week
A young boy carries rubbish on his back in Chroy Changvar district last week. A letter from the Phnom Penh municipality ordered that all homeless people be removed from the streets for their own safety. Hong Menea

City wants homeless gone

Phnom Penh City Hall wants to sweep the capital’s streets clean of beggars, street kids and the homeless.

In a directive issued yesterday, the municipality told district officials to remove homeless people from public areas, using the rationale that such city dwellers are especially vulnerable to human trafficking.

“The social affairs department and all district governors must control and prevent an influx of [beggars and homeless] to the city,” Seng Ratanak, Phnom Penh’s deputy governor, said. “They are at risk of labour exploitation and human trafficking, and we need public order,” he said.

Ratanak advised officials to cooperate with nongovernmental organisations to collect and educate homeless people, street children, beggars, street newspaper and flower sellers, and disabled people.

Ban Vutha, a deputy director at the municipal department of social affairs, said that since all of the government-funded city shelters have been closed, “collected” beggars and homeless people have to be sent to their families or an NGO for shelter.

“They cannot stay at the department for a long time, so we have to integrate them into provinces … after we save them,” he said.

At the end of last month, local NGOs Mith Samlanh and Pour un Sourire d’Enfant both signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to assist street kids. Neither NGO was aware of the directive sent out yesterday or the initiative to “collect” homeless people.

“I don’t think this should be about gathering street kids. Nobody can accommodate them all today,” Ouk Sovan, deputy programs director at PSE, said. “The first approach needs to be to build the trust of the children.”

Chanta, a 32-year-old beggar, told the Post that she had been picked up and educated by officials three years ago, and was given money for transportation back to her hometown. But she said the money wouldn’t cover the fare for her and her now-7-year-old daughter, and that after her husband died she could no longer support herself and daughter as a housekeeper in Banteay Meanchey.

“I know I can’t stay at the centre or depend on them to support me, so I became a beggar again … for some money to raise my little girl,” she said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAIGNEE BARRON

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