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Prey Speu detention centre still going strong

A young girl sells flowers to motorists at a set of traffic lights in Phnom Penh last year
A young girl sells flowers to motorists at a set of traffic lights in Phnom Penh last year. In Phnom Penh, 539 people, including children who work on the streets, were rounded up last year according to an annual report from the Social Affairs Department. Vireak Mai

Prey Speu detention centre still going strong

Almost 450 people were rounded up from the capital’s streets last year and sent to the notorious Prey Speu social affairs centre, where in November a man died after being denied medical treatment, according to an annual report from Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department.

According to the report, a total of 539 homeless people were rounded up in 2014, and 445 of them were sent to Prey Speu; a centre where, since its opening in 2004, staff have been accused of abuse, rape and even murder.

Following the allegations, Prey Speu shut down in June 2012, but was reopened the next year, rebranded as the Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre.

The facility seems to have changed in name only, with regular reports of subhuman conditions emerging from the centre.

While most people sent there quickly escape over the centre’s low external wall, others remain in permanent residence.

The report says there are currently 72 homeless people staying at Prey Speu, including children, elderly, mentally ill and disabled people.

A member of staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that two children aged 3 and 6, who Post reporters saw at the facility in early December, are still there.

“No one from their families has come to get them, so we still don’t dare to give them to someone else,” he said.

The children were rounded up as part of a city-wide effort, launched in June, aimed at clearing the streets of beggars, street sellers and homeless adults and children.

The action was couched as an effort to combat human trafficking and to offer useful vocational training, but despite being called a “vocational training centre”, Prey Speu lacks the money and facilities to offer anything but basic shelter and meagre meals.

According to reports, the two NGOs partnered with the city’s efforts – Pour un Sourire d’Enfant and Mith Samlanh – took in just 37 children between them.

Neither NGO could be reached for comment yesterday.

Son Sophal, director of the Social Affairs Department, acknowledged that the vast majority of people taken to Prey Speu escape soon after arriving.

“I don’t understand why they escape, but also we don’t force them to stay. We [keep them there to] take care of people who have nowhere to live,” he said.

In December, Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth vowed to improve conditions at Prey Speu and other detention centres by increasing food rations and encouraging transparency with supporting NGOs.

Sophal said yesterday that this was still on the agenda.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which visited the centre in December, called again yesterday for an end to the roundups.

“Street sweeps should end, and persons found to be in need of special care should be provided with such care on a voluntary basis by qualified professionals in appropriately equipped facilities,” she said. “If such care cannot be provided at Prey Speu, people should cease to be brought there.”

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