The government is planning to clear all tourist areas of beggars and panhandlers, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said last week.
“We have coordinated every place for [tourists] to not be disturbed by beggars,” Thong Khon said by telephone Thursday.
Thong Khon said his ministry will begin its campaign in Siem Reap province and is meeting May 5 with provincial authorities to discuss methods of preventing beggars from rowing boats around the restaurants that float on the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap district’s Chung Khnies commune.
“We will not allow beggars to disturb tourists at Chung Khnies anymore. Our officials and the provincial authority are working to organize this place,” Thong Khon said.
He added that the government would work to find jobs for the panhandlers.
Chung Khnies commune chief Em Man said that since 2000 about 60 beggars in makeshift boats—some on no more than cooking pots—have patrolled the floating restaurants begging for money.
Despite police attempts to confiscate the boats and re-educate the beggars, which for some included a two-week prison stay, Em Man said, “They do not stop begging. They still have continued their disorderly activity.”
Siem Reap district police Chief Thoeung Chendarith said police lack the authority to physically restrain the beggars from rowing out to the floating restaurants.
“There is no law to take action against them,” he said.
Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Licadho President Kek Galabru urged the government to do more than merely relocate the beggars.
“They’re not tables and chairs to be moved around; they’re human beings,” she said, recommending the government provide homes for the elderly and education for the youths.
“The decision coincides with the rising cost of food,” said Chea Vannath, former president of the Center for Social Development. “Right now, the gap is widening; we see more beggars.”
Cambodia’s leaders need to create a safety net that prevents Cambodians from becoming beggars in the first place, she said.
“The beggars show the reality of society and to try to cover up the reality is like trying to put a lot of makeup on a woman’s face to cover up signs of aging,” Chea Vannath said.
“It’s not enough to put on the makeup, but how to keep the whole society healthy in that the have and do-not-have are not too far from each other.”