Authorities in the capital’s Daun Penh district rounded up dozens of sex workers on Monday night before sending them yesterday for “re-education” at the notorious Prey Speu detention centre, according to officials.
Kim Vutha, chief of the Daun Penh security guards, said 43 sex workers and 10 homeless people were arrested at city landmark Wat Phnom as part of ongoing efforts to rid Phnom Penh of its so-called “undesirables”.
“During the operation, we rounded up a lot of female sex workers and some homeless people,” he said.
“The sex workers always appear at Wat Phnom at midnight to find customers to have sex with – it doesn’t look good for the city.”
Om Soman, chief of Wat Phnom commune police, agreed.
“Wat Phnom is not a place for them to find customers. It affects the city’s beauty and law and order.”
Following their arrest, the group was sent yesterday to Phnom Penh’s infamous Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre – better known as Prey Speu – for “training and education”, according to Son Sophal, director of the Municipal Social Affairs Department.
Since it opened in 2004, Prey Speu has been plagued with allegations of abuse.
Staff and former detainees have claimed that it is ill-equipped to offer any of the advertised training.
Sophal – who declined to comment on how things are progressing with pledged reforms at the facility – said NGOs were being approached to offer help to those rounded up on Monday.
Vutha, chief of the district security guards, yesterday acknowledged that pulling sex workers from the streets and detaining them at Prey Speu has little long-term effect.
“They are not afraid of us; we arrest them and they come back one day later,” he said.
“I don’t know whether they get any training or education at the centre, but they always come back to the same place at midnight to find clients.”
Keo Sichan, a program coordinator with the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency, said authorities should try to ensure that real training is offered to those rounded up, while sex workers should attempt to find work in clubs or restaurants.
“The authorities need to round them up to maintain public order and the women need to support themselves,” she said.
In May, about 100 sex workers and rights advocates called on the government to establish “safe zones” in the city where sex workers can operate in safety.