Koh Ko Center Closed; Detainees Driven Home

Koh Ko center, a Ministry of Social Affairs facility in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, was closed Tuesday, and the more than 80 people being held there were driven in trucks back to their home provinces, said Chea Saroeun, the center’s director.

The closure of the center follows a June 18 letter to senior government officials by local rights group Licadho detailing alleged “unlawful” means by which sex workers and others had been detained recently and the “abusive and inhumane” conditions at Koh Ko, and another center, Prey Speu, in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao commune.

Detainees at both centers reported being beaten by guards and locked in one room where they had to go to the bathroom in a bucket in front of other prisoners, according to the letter.

“My center has been closed under the order of the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Depart­ment,” Chea Saroeun said by telephone. “I was told those people needed to repatriate back to their home provinces.”

“More than 80 people, including elderly and arrested sex workers, were taken away from the center,” Chea Saroeun said, adding three boys and two girls—who appear to be mentally ill—remain at the center.

Koh Ko, which is on an island in the Bassac River, is under control of the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Department, even though it is technically located in Kandal.

Licadho Director Naly Pilorge wrote by e-mail Tuesday evening that she welcomed the closure of Koh Ko, but regretted the way in which it was done.

“Some of these people were reportedly taken by truck to their home provinces, though most were dropped off at various places on the streets of Phnom Penh…. [M]ost of them were simply dumped on a roadside,” Naly Pilorge wrote.

Chea Saroeun said he didn’t know exactly where the detainees had been dropped off, but was told they would be taken to their home provinces.

Naly Pilorge also called for the im­mediate closure of Prey Speu, “which has been the center of serious allegations of abuses over a number of years.”

An Ly, Prey Speu director, said his center remained open Wed­nesday for “all people who wish to stay and get the government’s treatment.”

“People who are homeless and beggars stay at my center. They are all volunteers who stay to learn skills to be a barber, cook, tailor and so on,” he said.

He denied there was violence at his center or that any sex workers resided there.

Chea San, director of social affairs for Phnom Penh, could not be reached Wednesday.

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