Protect migrant kids

Protect migrant kids

A temple raid in Lop Buri has sparked concern over forced deportations after a group of 19 stateless children enrolled in a monkhood ordination programme were ejected from their class and transferred to the border province of Chiang Rai.

The operation conducted on March 12 was a joint undertaking by officials from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry and immigration police.

Initially, the children -- aged 5–17 -- were to stay at an NGO-run centre, Ban Khru Nam. However, the authorities later decided to place them at a state-run home, and no contact with them has since been allowed.

This has raised fears that they may ultimately be sent to war-torn border areas or even made to leave the country.

Nuchanat Boonkong, the director of Ban Khru Nam, has expressed concern the state may seize on this opportunity to shut the project down completely.

The public outcry led Social Development and Human Security Minister Varawut Silpa-archa to issue a statement ruling out forced deportation. It said the children were "being looked after in Chiang Rai", adding that Thailand hews to the UN's Child Rights policy and the group will not be sent to Myanmar.

But why make them leave the temple in the first place? Do the authorities or ministry have any plan regarding their education, which has been suspended?

As keeping them in state shelters forever is not realistic, some social workers believe the ministry is merely buying time before sending them to Myanmar when public attention fades.

It should be noted that this is not the first time stateless children have been treated in such a swift and heartless way.

Last June, the authorities raided a school in Ang Thong province, removing 126 young stateless students to Chiang Rai. They were reportedly deported to Myanmar despite the fierce fighting taking place between the Tatmadaw and ethnic forces.

The abrupt end of their studies raises the question of whether the country's Education for All (EFA) policy is genuinely all-inclusive.

The two incidents set a bad precedent. School administrators elsewhere will not dare to accept stateless children despite the EFA policy. This would place Thailand in a bad light. What about the country's commitment to humanitarian principles?

As the country sits on the front line of the Myanmar conflict due to their shared border, it makes sense that security officials would have concerns over "pull factors" -- conditions encouraging migrants to enter the country -- and that they have to apply strict measures as a prevention measure.

This is probably why centres for the children of migrants along the border are in poor condition, with constant shortages of food and clean water. The Migrant Learning Center, which takes care of over 15,000 stateless students in Tak, is a case in point.

The question is: does such a security-led policy benefit society as a whole?

Over the past few years, several research institutions have urged the Thai government to allot more placements to the children of migrants, given the unfavourable demographic changes the country has seen, notably an extremely low birth rate.

As for the 19 students, they must have a place to study or be sent back to the temple. Their right to an education must not be violated.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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