The United Nations yesterday called on the government to do more to protect its homeless after years of so-called street sweeps and a lack of social care have left destitute Cambodians vulnerable to health risks and violence.
“Cambodia is growing fast economically, and the signs of rapid urban development are all around us, which adds to the complexity of the issues faced by persons in street situations, and for the authorities whose responsibility it is to address them,” Claire Van der Vaeren, UN resident coordinator for Cambodia, told a conference at the capital’s Himawari Hotel yesterday.
In a statement prior to the event, she said the UN would continue to fund projects to reduce homelessness.
“Development should be for everyone. Often among the most vulnerable and easiest to overlook are persons who live, work, or otherwise depend on the streets,” she said.
Government efforts to tackle homelessness include frequent street sweeps. In Phnom Penh, those rounded up are often taken to the notorious Prey Speu detention centre, which has long been plagued with allegations of abuse.
Touch Channy, director general of the Ministry of Social Affairs’ technical department, said the ministry did not receive enough funding to properly provide for the country’s homeless.
“Even though we try to advocate for more funds, in reality, we have a big shortage of money to serve social welfare,” he said.
He added that only about 7 per cent of the ministry’s budget went directly to helping homeless people, with almost three quarters of the funds tied up in civil servants’ salaries.
Channy said that 2,295 people had been removed from the streets this year, with 1,218 of those being women and children.
Leng Phaly, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Planning, had insinuated earlier in the conference that the workings of the national committee on homelessness were inefficient, or, as he put it, had “the head of an elephant and the feet of a rat”.
However, Channy insisted that the committee was on the right track.
“That’s why we have our technical committee to provide the necessary skills, planning and strategy to make it work,” he said.
Pin Sokhom, coordinator of local NGO Mith Samlanh, which has taken in many street children rounded up by the government over the past year, said while the government had shown a willingness to cooperate, more needed to be done.
“The government’s policy is good, but the cooperation is still limited, so we will share experiences and discuss the issue with the authorities and government officials,” he said.