UN Clears Holding Center; It Fills Next Day

UN human rights workers on Thursday and Friday took 32 homeless people, most of them children, from a railway-car-sized shed the city uses as a detention center, holding center staff said Sunday.

But by Saturday night, the de­tention center had been refilled and on Sun­day 17 homeless people were being held, including an AIDS victim, a man convulsing with fever, seven children and two infants.

Pun Phum holding center in Dangkao district is a wooden hut on stilts about 25 meters long and 10 meters wide on the outskirts of the city. There is no water, bathroom facilities or electricity. Detainees are given food and at least two opportunities to leave the hut to bathe from a nearby well and go to the bathroom per day. Inside, the wooden floor is filled with holes that detainees said they use to go to the bathroom in between breaks. Still water spotted with garbage sits in a pool under the hut.

Human rights workers took the children rescued from the center last week to organizations that can care for them. The de­tention center is a “major concern” and “a priority,” a human rights worker said Sunday.

Phnom Penh Municipality has been using at least three sites like Pun Phum to temporarily detain homeless people caught in regular sweeps of the city since 1993, First Deputy Gov­ernor Chea Sophara said Sun­day. In the past month, at least 700 people have gone through two of the city’s holding centers, Chea Sophara said. The city also runs an orphanage in Stung Meanchey district.

The homeless at Pun Phum are held until there are enough to make up a truckload—about 30—and then they are ship­ped home at the city’s expense, said Ven Khorn, the center’s chief.

The municipality will check on Pun Phum today and see what improvements can be made, Chea Sophara said.

Ven Khorn defended the center, saying the people were kept only temporarily, fed well and not harmed. “This is not terrible. I am not Pol Pot,” Ven Khorn said. When detainees were allowed out during an afternoon break, none of the center’s six guards carried weapons.

But the detainees are not re­ce­iving adequate medical care. In the holding hut a man in his 40s lay on a bamboo mat shivering and convulsing. His wife and child sitting next to him said they had come from Prey Veng pro­vince last week. Three days ago her husband had gotten sick and has barely eaten since. He was given rice and water and little medicine, the woman said.

Chum Sopheap, 39, said Sun­day that she came to Phnom Penh on Saturday from Kom­pong Thom province to get medicine to help with the AIDS that has affected herself and her husband. She said she and 16 others were staying in Preak Leap on the other side of the Japanese Bridge at 10 pm Saturday when police picked them up.

Chum Sopheap and the other detainees arrived at Pun Phum, about 13 km from Phnom Penh, at around 1 am, Ven Khorn said. They will leave in the next few days, the chief said.

The center has two programs for homeless, Ven Khorn said. A nearby house onc­e had an educational program where homeless people could volunteer to stay up to a month and learn why they can’t stay in Phnom Penh as workers, Ven Khorn said.

The program has received none of the 8 million riel, roughly $2,800, it needs per month to ope­rate since July, Ven Khorn said. The municipality is receiving no money from the national government to help support these centers, Chea Sophara said.

The city now depends on NGOs and international agencies to help with the homeless problem, the city’s leader added.

The land the holding center is on will be used for a construction pro­ject soon. So Pun Phum may be moved to 2 hec­tares of city-owned property in Khmuonh commune west of its current location, Chea Sophara said.

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