The Ministry of Social Affairs yesterday claimed it had released scores of people from the notorious Prey Speu detention centre into the hands of NGOs, including children who had been detained without their parents for months on end.
Director of the municipal social affairs department Sorn Sophal said 58 people were handed over to Mith Samlanh, Plan International and Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) on January 16, though the latter two NGOs denied having accepted detainees.
“The youngest one is 5 years old . . . We rounded them up off the street because they were beggars and homeless and we sent them to Prey Speu,” Sophal said. “Now we found the NGO for them to stay with; now we integrate them.”
Im Sreypao, a project reintegration manager at Mith Samlanh, said they had taken in 39 people – 10 of them unattended children. She said nine boys immediately left the centre without taking any of the prepared food. “We didn’t even get a chance to find their parents for them; they wanted to leave, so we cannot force them to stay here,” she said.
She added they had given medical treatment to an 8-year-old girl who had developed a skin infection at the centre after she was plucked from Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich more than two months ago, and also helped her find her parents
Sreypao said the organisation had reunited 12 families with their relatives and provided them with food and counselling. “I saw they are very happy and they smile when they got out of the centre,” she said.
“Now they have freedom; now they can live as humans.” But at least 19 people remain unaccounted for, as Plan International and PSE said they did not take in any people from Prey Speu.
Iman Mooroka, spokesperson for UNICEF, said “children should not be separated from their families except under extreme circumstances”.
“The streets are clearly no place for children, however, taking children off the streets and placing them in an institution not suitable for children is not the solution,” she said.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson slammed the continued involuntary detention of Phnom Penh’s so-called “undesirables”.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with the brains of the officials overseeing this process of arrest and detention that they think it is somehow OK to separate kids from their parents and force them to stay in this hellhole of a centre.”