Afesip Lays Off 39 Staffers in Wake of Funding Cut

Thirty-nine staff members have been laid off from the financially embattled anti-trafficking NGO Afesip, which was founded by disgraced activist Somaly Mam, former staffers said Wednesday.

Last week, Afesip said the Somaly Mam Foundation—from which Ms. Mam resigned in May after a number of articles exposed inconsistencies in her professed life story—terminated funding to Afesip with immediate effect on June 12.

Because of the funding cut, Afesip laid off 39 staffers to prioritize caring for 170 children in three shelters it runs, according to Afesip’s aid program manager, Uong Chheng.

“In the first phase, 39 Afesip staff have been laid off, and we don’t know how many more will lose their job here,” he said.

“Because of the immediate funding cut, our 170 children at the three shelters as well as staff are facing hard times. Thus, the leaders on the management level have decided to use some funds from other donors for other projects to help feed these children first,” he added.

Soeung Kamaryan, who headed Afesip’s legal office for 14 years before being let go this week, said staff had been warned that 70 percent of them would lose their jobs, but that they would not find out until this week.

“The decision to lay off staff is so unfair and we are very fed up,” Ms. Kamaryan said, adding that those who were sacked received no seniority pay.

Ms. Kamaryan said she was frustrated because staffers with familial relations to Ms. Mam were not laid off.

“How come the decision was made to lay off just those who are not related, while those who are blood-related or well connected with Somaly Mam have not been laid off?” Ms. Kamaryan asked.

Ms. Kamaryan said that although Ms. Mam had ostensibly resigned from Afesip last year, she remained closely involved with the NGO.

“She announced her departure from Afesip, but she remains controlling Afesip. Her tail is out of Afesip, but her head remains at Afesip,” she said.

Both Ms. Kamaryan and Ly Monirath, former head of Afesip’s Siem Reap branch, who was sacked this week after eight years at the NGO, described a meeting earlier this year at which staff were asked to vote on whether Ms. Mam should return as president of the organization.

“At that time, the leaders in management thought that sister Somaly was the only person who could help ask for funds from donors, since she has a lot of high credentials,” Mr. Monirath said.

Although staff agreed that Ms. Mam should return, the plan had not yet been implemented when Ms. Mam was forced to resign from the Somaly Mam Foundation in May, the staffers said.

Mr. Chheng, the aid program manager, denied claims of nepotism, noting that Ms. Mam’s mother had also been laid off from her job running the Tum Dy shelter, one of Afesip’s residential shelters for abused women and girls.

“Some of Madam Somaly’s relatives, such as her mother, who was in charge of Tum Dy shelter, were laid off too,” he said.

In her autobiography “The Road of Lost Innocence” Ms. Mam claims she was abandoned by her parents at a young age and sold into a brothel at the age of 9.

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