Government repatriates Myanmar children, ignoring objections

The government is preparing to repatriate over a hundred Myanmarese children who lack registration documents, ignoring objections that this violates the National Education and Child Protection Acts.

Transborder News reported that on 5 July 2023, 126 non-Thai children without civil registration were bussed from Ang Thong Province to five welfare homes in preparation for being sent back to Myanmar. The process was supervised by representatives of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and Pol Maj Gen Thitawat Suriyachai of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau.

The children, aged between 7 and 16 years old, had been taken to a school in Ang Thong Province. The school director requested registration for non-Thai students without civil registration (known as G-codes), but an investigation conducted by the Ang Thong Primary Educational Service Area Office discovered that almost all the pupils in the school were children from Myanmar who had been brought in to enrol at the school. Legal action was initiated against the school director and the repatriation process was prepared.

Pol Maj Gen Thitawat stated that legal action had also been initiated against those who brought the children from neighbouring countries. Currently, the children are in the process of being returned to their legitimate parents. These children can in fact study in Thailand, but it would be more appropriate for them to enrol in schools located in border areas. Instead, they were brought to Ang Thong.

Some reports claim that the children were in fact born to migrant workers in Thailand. 

Tuenjai Deetes a former Senator and former National Human Rights Commissioner (NHRC), said that the root cause of the problem stems from the Ministry of Education's policy of closing small-sized schools, which encourages school administrators to bring in children from elsewhere to make up numbers so that they can stay open. She urged that this policy should be reconsidered. Children from neighbouring countries also seek refuge in Thailand from difficulties in their own country. It is necessary to work together to find a solution to this issue.

Santipong Moonfong, Director of the Legal Status Network Foundation, said a complaint has been filed with the NHRC. He called on the NHRC to urge the relevant agencies to clarify what is ging on. Importantly, temporary protection should be provided to these children to prevent forcible return.

It is estimated that 80,000 non-Thai children with G-codes are residing in six provinces, including Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Chonburi. Santipong emphasised that suitable measures should be taken to address this situation.

Sriprapha Petcharamesree, Senior Researcher at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, asserted that forcing these children to leave Thailand is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Thailand is a party. Such action also violates the principle of non-refoulement. Regardless of their identity or legal status, these children should receive protection and have access to education.

When asked whether it is appropriate for these children to study in Thai public schools located away from the border, Siriprapha noted that there are no restrictions on their enrolment in schools in Ang Thong Province. She pointed out that there are migrant children studying even in Samut Sakhon Province and Bangkok. This is not against the law, she added.

Thai PBS later reported that the NHRC would attempt to prevent the repatriation.  Commissioner Preeda Kongpaen has travelled to Chiang Rai to observe the process.

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