Doubts Raised Over City Census of Street People

The Phnom Penh Municipality is conducting interviews today and Thursday in the city’s first census of beg­gars and street people, officials said Tuesday.

Census takers will target street child­ren and seek to address the mi­gration of beggars from the coun­tryside to the capital, said Khun Sear, mu­­nicipal vice governor.

The information will eventually help determine the causes of homelessness and begging, and be used to develop strategies to keep people off the streets, he said.

“Street kids are at risk and are a vulnerable group that needs our help,” Khun Sear said, adding that their situation affects the entire country.

But street people and NGO work­ers said they were apprehensive about the project.

Begging at Wat Phnom, Leang Sokha, 67, said officials claiming to conduct interviews have arrested her in the past and that she feared be­ing arrested again.

“There have been many people who have interviewed me, and prom­­ised to take me to a proper shel­ter to get skill training,” she said. “But I was sent back to my home prov­ince in Svay Rieng.”

Khun Sear said no one will be arrested during the interviews.

Friends International, the um­brella NGO that includes local organization Mith Samlanh/Friends, de­clin­ed an invitation to participate in the project, saying the process seemed un­clear and could compromise the organization’s mission.

“We discovered that they only wanted NGOs to give them the sites where people were,” said Se­bas­tien Marot, international coordinator for Friends International. “They just wanted to use our network.”

He said the municipality did not give clear answers about how the census would be conducted or how the information would be used.

“If they decided to raid an area, we could be accused by people we are working with [of being] in league with the police,” he said. “We weren’t sure if it would backfire on our work.”

Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, questioned the usefulness of the survey. “How can you take a census of street people if they are always mobile?” she said.



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