An unregistered Christian-run orphanage in Phnom Penh—from which police last week removed 21 children—could reopen if the Australian NGO that runs it completes the necessary paperwork, an official said Sunday.
A joint operation by authorities and anti-trafficking NGO Sisha on March 22 removed the children from the orphanage—run by Australian charity Love in Action (LIA)—because it was “an unregistered orphanage, unlawful and not approved by any local authority,” anti-trafficking organization Sisha said on Tuesday.
But Phnom Penh municipal social affairs department director Son Sophal said Sunday that the orphanage could be back open as long as it registers with the government.
“If the NGO completes all the legal requirements, then we will allow the orphanage to be reopened,” he said, adding that the ongoing investigation into the charity was a matter for the police.
National and municipal police could not be reached for comment.
While Sisha had initially claimed the orphanage’s 71-year-old founder, Ruth Golder, was being investigated for human trafficking and abuse, and that police had raided the center, they dropped any mention of this in a later statement. Police said Ms. Golder had asked them to remove the children because she was unable to feed them.
In a strange twist, a spokesman for LIA, which is registered in Queensland, Australia, claimed Sunday that Ms. Golder and her daughter, Tracey, had gone into hiding after receiving death threats after the orphanage closed.
Contacted by telephone, Rob McVey would not elaborate on the nature of the threats, but told Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper: “They’ve had death threats, so they’ve moved into a safe house.”
In a Facebook message posted Saturday, and signed off by “Ruth and Tracey,” LIA reassured its sponsors they were continuing their work.
“Just wanting to let you know that LIA International’s work is still operating…. We have not closed down as an organization, just because of what you may have heard. We are still putting our love into action.”
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)