Roundup of Vagrants Begins; Numbers Kept Secret

The Phnom Penh municipality on Tuesday began its latest campaign to clear the city’s streets of vagrants, rounding up truckloads of beggars and sellers at traffic lights and holding them at district offices and the municipal social affairs department.

Street people across the city were seen being loaded into caged trucks, but City Hall and the social affairs department declined to reveal how many people had been gathered up.

Beggars and street-sellers peer through a cage on the back of a truck Tuesday after being rounded up by Phnom Penh municipal officials, who on Monday announced an initiative to clean up the city's streets. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Beggars and street-sellers peer through a cage on the back of a truck Tuesday after being rounded up by Phnom Penh municipal officials, who on Monday announced an initiative to clean up the city’s streets. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We began collecting [vagrants] in all districts across the municipality and we will continue tomorrow and beyond,” said City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.

“We kicked off the campaign to round up the street people because we want to send them to various partner NGOs such as Mith Samlanh, where vocational training programs are in place to help them.”

Mith Samlanh and Pour un Sourire d’Enfant are the two non-profits named by City Hall as partners in the program. The two cater primarily to street children and have agreed to take those rounded up by City Hall and offer them vocational training.

As of 5:30 Tuesday evening, Friends International, another NGO that partners closely with Mith Samlanh, had received no children as a result of City Hall’s campaign. Pour un Sourire d’Enfant will not join the effort until July. Still, areas that are normally host to clusters of beggars and children selling jasmine and newspapers were unusually quiet Tuesday.

A 23-year-old man who gave his name only as Davuth said he had hidden when the authorities came by.

“I’m scared of being rounded up…. I saw my competitors and other people selling jasmine rings and beggars pulled away by a few men and put in trucks with iron bars.”

Sebastien Marot, executive director at Friends International, said that the lack of vagrants at the usual spots may have been a result of a blitz by his organization ahead of the roundup.

He said that ahead of City Hall taking to the streets with its caged trucks, an outreach team from his NGO scoured the city to remind the children who work, live or beg there that Friends was an option for them.

Mr. Marot said his organization did not believe that rounding up vagrants would help their plight, or the city’s beautification in the long run, as most of the children would likely be back on the streets soon after they were released.

“We understand that the municipality needs short-term results, but it is a long-term problem that needs long-term solutions,” he said.

According to transgender rights activist Sou Sotheavy, more than 20 sex workers were rounded up on Monday night and Tuesday morning by municipal social affairs staff and were being held at the My Chance rehabilitation center.

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