Mental Health Center Under Construction for Prey Speu Detainees

Officials broke ground on Saturday on a new mental health center in Kandal province that will house detainees from the notorious Prey Speu detention center in Phnom Penh, among others, government and city officials said on Sunday.

Em Chanmakara, spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said the center should be finished by year’s end and would hold between 300 and 500 patients.

Services at the facility will be free for all patients, including more than 100 people with mental illnesses who would be moved from Prey Speu, which is officially called the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Center, said Sorn Sophal, director of the municipality’s social affairs department.

“We will have a center that treats people better,” he said. “Prey Speu is not a center meant for treatment.”

Construction of the new center, located on 2.6 hectares of a 7-hectare orphanage complex in Kandal Stung district’s Barkou commune, will be funded by the Phnom Penh municipality, said City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey. The Social Affairs Ministry will take control of the center once it is built, he said.

Mr. Measpheakdey said Phnom Penh authorities regularly bring mentally ill people living on the city’s streets to Prey Speu, and would welcome being able to transfer them to a mental health center.

“If there are mentally ill people staying spread out in the city, it is not proper for public order,” Mr. Measpheakdey said. “So we send [them] to a proper place to take care of them. They will get comfort and will be looked after properly.”

Prey Speu has been the target of criticism for more than a decade of allegedly unlawful detention, and has been plagued by recurrent escapes, suspicious deaths and claims of violence and sexual abuse by guards.

In a speech last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen told authorities to improve the center or shut it down.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, said he was pleased the government was attempting to fill a major gap in mental health care. The Khmer-Soviet Hospital provided some mental health treatment, but lacked long-term care for mentally ill patients, he said.

The rights worker said he hoped the new center would offer what Prey Speu lacked: professional psychological care.

“Once we construct this building or hospital, we need real experts—doctors skilled in this field and additional training for treating patients,” he said.

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