PHNOM Penh Governor Chea Sophara has announced he will "rescue poor people" by removing all homeless families, drug addicts and street children from the city's streets before the ASEAN summit in early November. The decision has angered professionals whose work involves street children, urbanization and human rights.
"I will force all homeless to leave the streets - we have already started doing this and will take more action," Sophara told the Post. "I want to clean up the city and beautify it before the ASEAN summit
"We want to solve this problem by sending them to their original provinces with transport and food," he said.
Sophara said the municipality had already started rounding up street children and would continue to do so "because they have no meaning there - they need to go to school".
The street children would be sent to schools, orphanages, or the Choam Chao youth rehabilitation center near Pochentong Airport.
At a meeting on July 22 the governor asked the city's department of social affairs to prepare a list of children who were not attending school so they could be sent to classes in time for the new academic year.
Deputy director of the department, Suon Chhoeung, said his staff had begin surveying the number and education levels of street children, but had not started removing them as per the directive.
Sebastien Marot, coordinator at street children's NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends, said around 1,200 children lived alone on the streets. He said the directive was ruining his organization's work.
"Since Sophara's declaration last week, the [municipal] police have started following our teams who were working with the kids on the streets. As soon as the teams left, they arrested all the kids," Marot said. "This is totally destroying the work we are trying to establish with the kids for a long-term solution."
Friends' Marot said street children had been forcibly relocated to the provinces since March.
The municipality's Chhoeung confirmed that relocations had been taking place for some time.
"We send them to the provinces," he said. "On July 3 we sent 200 people."