Around 20 detainees from the embattled Borei Keila neighborhood escaped the facility where they have been held without formal charges since they were arrested in a demonstration last week.
Escapees climbed over the walls or jumped the metal gates of the Prey Speu Social Affairs Center Wednesday in full view of journalists, security guards and rights observers.
Rights groups have condemned their detention at the center, a facility they say is used by the city to detain street children, prostitutes and others without due process.
“We were detained in the center with drug users, mad people and homeless people,” said Sim Sakmony, 63, one of the escapees. “It was improper. We were forced to stay at the center. We wanted freedom.”
The Borei Keila residents have been protesting their forced eviction from the neighborhood after development company Phan Imex failed to provide adequate housing.
Around 30 people were seized by authorities at City Hall earlier this month, even as they protested the arrests of eight other residents who had resisted police in a violent eviction Jan. 3.
“I am free from detention,” said Ke Heang, 45. “From today and tomorrow, I don’t know what to think, for I have no house to live in. My life faces poverty and an uncertain future. I cannot resolve it.”
Suy Siphan, the head of Phan Imex, declined to comment on Wednesday’s events. She has said in the past the company provided housing adequate for the number of people who lawfully held land at Borei Keila.
The company is now offering resettlement land outside the city to residents who do not have housing on the development, or a $500 buyout to return to their home provinces, she said Wednesday.