Twenty-four beggars and homeless people escaped from the Phnom Penh Transit Centre in Por Senchey district on Monday and police are seeking their return.
The facility, previously called the Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre, was notorious for its human rights abuses after beggars and homeless people were rounded up from the streets and sent there.
In 2015, rights group Licadho asked the government to close the centre after uncovering two cases, one of a mentally ill man who had drowned in Prey Speu and another of a woman who had died there without a thorough investigation into her death.
The government responded by rebranding the centre and offering more training to those held there after street sweeps to aid them in social reintegration.
Mom Chandany, director of the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Department, confirmed yesterday that 24 people escaped from the centre on Monday night.
“There were 24 people who escaped from the centre because they did not want to stay there to get our training services after they were rounded up by authorities from the street,” she said. “But I want to confirm that those people are not prisoners and the centre is not a prison.”
“When they do not volunteer to stay there, they escape. We are trying to give services to them, find a place for them to stay, but they still do not favour staying there to get training or other health services,” she added.
Theng Kosal, Chom Chao commune police chief, said authorities were looking for the 24 escapees to return them to the centre.
“Now police are seeking them to send them back,” he said, noting most were beggars and homeless people taken off the street.
Mr Kosal added that villagers living nearby the centre saw the group escape and reported it to police.
More than 1,700 beggars and homeless people were removed from the streets of Phnom Penh and sent to social affairs centres last year.
According to a City Hall annual report, authorities rounded up 1,727 beggars and homeless people from all city districts over the course of 2017.
City Hall administrative director Hoat Hai said 1,560 people, including 262 children, were sent to the Phnom Penh Transit Centre in Por Senchey district and the rest were sent to another facility.
He added that 1,110 of them were reintegrated into the community.