Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Officials visit Prey Speu centre



Officials visit Prey Speu centre

Detained people stand on the porch of a living area at Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre yesterday afternoon in Por Sen Chey district.
Detained people stand on the porch of a living area at Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre yesterday afternoon in Por Sen Chey district. Pha Lina

Officials visit Prey Speu centre

Officials have vowed the Prey Speu centre – which houses hundreds of the city’s homeless and has been repeatedly denounced for a raft of abuses – will not close, on the back of a visit from the Phnom Penh governor and Minister of Social Affairs yesterday.

Not all of the 234 detainees are without homes – some were merely caught up in government sweeps to get “undesirables” off the streets – but all are of one mind about the “vocational” centre, emphatically and universally maintaining it should be closed.

Many detainees – including some with homes – said they could not be released without their families paying up to $200, and they did not dare escape for fear of being beaten by guards.

Detainee Sok Kha, 25, works as a security guard but sleeps in a hammock on the streets. “My wife went to the district office to get a letter proving she is my relative, but they demanded $100. She is pregnant and has no job … Without my work; we have nothing,” he said.

“I ask the officer when will they release us, and they said you will never be released.”

This is his second detention at the centre – last time he escaped.

Transgender woman Sok Lyheant, 23, has been in jail for two months, but has a job at a bar and a family at home.

She was arrested as she was walking home at night, past Wat Phnom, she said, an area known to be frequented by sex workers. She is not sure how much her mother paid to have her released, but she is due to go home in the coming days.

Dozens of detainees said they wanted to leave, and that the centre was “worse than a prison” where no training has taken place.

They claimed they are locked in rooms – yesterday was an exception for the ministerial visit – and let out only for meals three times a day.

Yesterday’s visit came on the heels of a speech from Hun Sen, who demanded either an overhaul or closure of the controversial centre.

Since the Post’s last visit in July of last year, and six months after a UN review recommending a halt to “round-ups” and that the centre should be voluntary and open-access, very little appears to have changed.

An ambulance comes every Friday to dish out paracetamol and antibiotics, but visiting doctor Sem Visoth said diarrhoea and skin diseases were rife at the centre.

In a letter read aloud to visiting officials, Phnom Penh social affairs director Sorn Sophal admitted the centre’s substantial failings, including lack of sleeping areas, no support for the mentally ill, no standby doctor or transport for the sick to hospital, no electricity or sewerage pipes, and five months without pay for contract workers.

Minister of Social Affairs Vong Soth said he and the governor were firmly committed to reform. “We cannot close this centre, because there is a demand … we need to better restructure the management,” Soth said.

City governor Pa Socheatavong urged relatives to prove their link to detainees so they could be returned. “We don’t want to keep the people here; we just want to ensure they will not be taken advantage of.”

Men, women and children – many with physical or intellectual disabilities or HIV – sat with pressed palms begging, sometimes tearfully, for their freedom, as the officials paraded past.

They were then shooed back inside buildings by centre chief Ban Vutha, while Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatavong handed out crisp 50,000 riel notes ($12.50) to each guard at the end of his visit.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting