11 July 2024

Thailand, with participation from the US Embassy in Bangkok, discussed on Tuesday how to handle the remaining Myanmar children retrieved from a school in Ang Thong province.

Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn chaired the meeting in Chiang Rai, with representatives from the ministries of Education and Social Development and Human Security, the National Human Rights Commission and the US Embassy.

The presence of 126 Myanmar children, aged between seven and sixteen, caused suspicion when the former director of Thai Rath Wittaya School in Pa Moke district, Kalaya Tasom, sought registration with provincial education office, to secure financial support. The office looked into the case and found that most of the children could not communicate in Thai.

Kalaya was removed from the job after she admitted that she received the children in a northern province of Thailand with the help of a village headman. She is alleged to have imported Myanmar children, to increase the numbers at her school, because any school which has small number of registered students is at risk of being closed.

Ang Thong police handed the group of children over to immigration officials for repatriation. A foundation in Chiang Rai, however, stepped in to provide shelter and education for them if they wanted it.

The meeting was informed that the parents of 59 youngsters had already come to pick up their children, while the Thai side could not yet contact the parents of 67 others, probably because of the ongoing fighting in Myanmar.

Relatives of some children tried to take the children, but failed to provide the required documents.

Surachate said the case has many dimensions, so Thailand cannot not handle it only by resorting to legal enforcement, but should be concerned about the children’s rights as well.

What the children want is an education. They could be an important labour source in the future, so the meeting today is to find a way for them to get an education legally, Surachate said.

Those in favour of repatriating the children have argued that they are only eligible for educational programmes in Thailand if they are either children of documented foreign migrants working here or were born in Thailand. The 126 children do not meet these criteria.

The Office of the Basic Education Commission will facilitate children wish to continue studying in Thailand, Surachate said, adding that they would have to have the consent of their parents.

Those whose parents have not yet been located will come under the care of the Chiang Rai governor, who will assign custodians.

All of this will be concluded this Friday, so that the children will know their future.

The police general said there are about 70,000-80,000 Myanmar children studying in Thai border schools. They should be entitled to basic education and help, such as food, medicine and COVID-19 vaccination.

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