PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – After abysmal conditions were exposed at the Por Sen Chey Social Affairs Center, City Hall admitted yesterday that the center was not equipped to detain and care for large numbers of people.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the center is “not good enough yet for all the people who are sent there.”
Center administrators say a large two-story building is being built on the grounds for “vocational training.”
On a visit Tuesday, CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth noticed this building and learned that is part of a renovation project.
The 10-room building is to be completed this year, said Sorn Sophal, director of the municipality’s social affairs department and chief of the center.
“The building is being built with funds provided by City Hall,” he said.
UN Agencies Monitoring
The UN has monitored the abysmal situation at the center for years, documenting human rights violations. The city renamed the facility Por Sen Chey Social Affairs Center in 2013 in an apparent attempt to distance it from these critical reports.
“One notable improvement is the increased linkages with civil society organizations, who are permitted to take certain groups of persons in their care, particularly children,” said Wan-Hea Lee, head of the UN’s High Commissioner office for Human Rights in Cambodia.
“However, the needs remain dire, not least regarding the medical, food and sanitation needs of the persons rounded up and detained at the center,” he said.
The center’s gate opened Tuesday at the request of Ms. Sovannaroth. She had formed a group to observe the “vocational” center’s human rights situation. Abuses were reported by escaped detainees and human rights advocates after round-ups of street people in advance of the June 19 funeral procession for Cambodian People’s Party leader Chea Sim “City Hall and the municipality’s social affairs department is responsible for the living conditions of all people living in center,” Ms. Sovannaroth said. “I’ve requested to the director of the center to make a report to City Hall to provide these people with medical care, more food, water supply and proper toilets.”
City Hall maintains the center is needed to house homeless people, drug addicts, and the mentally ill – and to rehabilitate them.
No Plans Implemented
Khmer Times interviewed numerous detainees at the site and found no evidence of vocational training or proper medical services for its severely mentally ill residents.
A 22-year-old woman sat in the middle of the courtyard of the center and picked at the grass and mumbled to herself. She had a burned and bruised lip and talked with trepidation.
“This is not the first time I’m here,” said Chak Saroun, who admitted she had attempted to escape from the center many times. “I used to try to escape, but i was beaten every time I was caught – and that makes me feel afraid to try again. I feel like I’m living in a prison.”
Ms. Chak admitted to being a sex worker and said she was apprehended by police while walking the streets in central Phnom Penh, near NagaWorld, in the evening.
She said she has not been provided any healthcare at the center.
“I really want to leave this place and go home,” she said. “I always feel dizzy, and I haven’t been able to sleep for a week.”
Situation Brought to Light
Ms. Lee, of the UN, said the center’s situation brought to “to light the wider lack of social protection and community-based solutions and treatment available in Cambodia, particularly for persons with psychosocial disabilities.”
“This requires concerted and coordinated inter-ministerial efforts, as well as financial resources,” she said. “It also requires a thorough review of the practice of rounding up and forcibly holding persons who have committed no crime other than to look poor and homeless.”