More than a 1,000 children born to Thai parents – most of whom fled from or migrated without proper papers from Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South – are living in Malaysia as stateless people, a former rebel leader told BenarNews.
This week, an official in charge of an agency that administers the Deep South traveled to the neighboring Malaysian state of Kelantan for talks with the Thai consul-general on how to help these stateless boys and girls, as well as their parents, gain access to basic rights including health care and schooling.
Suphanat Sirantawineti, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC), spoke to reporters after meeting with Paitoon Songkaeo, Thailand’s consul-general in the state capital of Kota Bharu, on Tuesday.
“Initially, SBPAC and the Thai consulate in Kota Bharu will organize a mobile team to be able to provide assistance to Thai groups in Malaysia. SBPAC will be bringing public health and medical teams from Thailand to give [these people] public health services,” he said.
Suphanat said the services would be free to Thais living and working in Malaysia.
“Many come from impoverished backgrounds and some have children who were born in Malaysia but are undocumented because their births have not been registered anywhere.”
He did not say how many undocumented Thai expats were living Malaysia, but he said some were fugitives from justice.
“Some have been linked to national security cases and some have warrants out for their arrest. Some believed that they were going to be charged, and fled to Malaysia,” he said.
“As a result, we have a situation in which their children and family members are not able to access health care, education and other services,” Suphanat added.
The SBPAC is an inter-department agency that oversees development and civilian affairs for some 1.7 million people in the conflict-riddled Deep South, a predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region where a decades-long separatist insurgency has claimed nearly 7,000 lives since 2004.
Beside free medical checkups, the mobile teams would offer Thai workers the opportunity to register for work permits so they could stay in Malaysia legally, according to Paitoon.
“The consulate-general makes three road trips a year to visit Thai communities working throughout Malaysia. We provide a wide range of services, from passports to issuing birth certificates to Thai children born in Malaysia,” Paitoon said.
‘Will help strengthen trust’
Ma-ae Sa-a (alias Haji Sama-ae Thanam), a former leader of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), one of the insurgent groups in the Deep South, praised the effort by the SBPAC to help solve the problem.
“This is a good thing. … This initiative will help strengthen trust,” Ma-ae said.
He said he had compiled a survey of Thais living in Malaysia which showed that there were “over a thousand stateless children and youths” there, telling BenarNews that he had handed a list of these people to Thai officials.
Ma-ae said the reasons for not properly documenting children include that some parents had been working legally but did not take time off to register the birth, while others were working illegally or were fleeing legal charges, and did not wish to take any risks by showing up at government agencies to register their child’s birth.
Ma-ae was released from a Thai prison last year after serving 18 years on charges of treason.