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As new school year begins in Thailand, funding shortages hinder education for refugee children on Myanmar border

As Thai children head back to school following a long summer break, a lack of funding has hindered many displaced children from Myanmar living along the Thai Myanmar border from accessing a similar education, Save the Children said.
04 June 2024

Thailand has a long history of hosting refugees and migrants from neighbouring countries fleeing conflict and poverty and adopted an ‘Education for All Policy’ which mandates 15 years of free education for all children whether they are Thai, undocumented migrants, or stateless.[1]
 
But children without identification documents have historically faced challenges in gaining admission to Thai schools. Schools inside temporary shelters along the borders do not have Thai language classes and the lack of local language skills can block children from accessing the Thai school system, higher education and work opportunities.
 
Schools inside the nine temporary shelters along the Thai-Myanmar border, officially home to about 90,000[2] people, say cuts in funding since the pandemic as donors focus on other global crises, has left them unable to pay teachers, buy new textbooks or even repair school structures.
 
Guillaume Rachou, Executive Director, Save the Children (Thailand) Foundation said:
 
“Every child has a right to education, irrespective of their background or legal status. Even though Thailand’s Ministry of Education says it provides education for all, many displaced and migrant children still do not enjoy those policies. Children need to go to school and they should not face challenges because they don’t have documents.”
 
Although there are refugees and migrants from several countries in Thailand, the vast majority are from neighboring Myanmar.
 
While Thailand has maintained an asylum policy and provided a haven for many refugees, it hasn't ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, meaning those fleeing from neighbouring countries have no legal status and are vulnerable to arrest or deportation.
 
Jornay,* 25, whose family comes from Myanmar, was born in Mae La camp. He doesn’t hold any form of identification that is recognized by the Thai state.
 
“I was educated in the camps, but our education was not recognised so after we graduate, we don’t have jobs.”
 
Esther,* 27, a displaced geography teacher trainer, was overcome with emotion when she spoke about how some classrooms inside the temporary shelters, most of which are rudimentary buildings with thatched roofs, have less than a handful of text books and some are so old that the print has become blurry.
 
David, 22,* grew up in Mae La camp, the largest temporary shelter along the Thai border:
 
“Parents in the camps used to push their children to further their education but the barriers are big. There is a wall between us and the (Thai) citizens,” he said. 
 
Save the Children visited one learning centre in the city of Mae Sot in western Thailand that shares a border with Myanmar where the headmaster,  Ben,* 46, said he doubles as the school’s driver because of staff and funding shortages.
 
Save the Children Thailand is calling for more funding for education programmes along the Thai-Myanmar border, as well as improved access to education for migrant and displaced children, including those without documentation, and more support for teachers and their training. These steps are crucial for providing a stable and hopeful future for displaced children.
 
Save the Children Thailand is also calling on the Thai government to facilitate access for migrant and displaced children to Thai schools along the Thailand-Myanmar border and to provide support for their integration into the education system.
 
Save the Children supports the basic education of more than 20,000 children aged 5-18 spread across 46 schools in temporary shelters along the Thai-Myanmar border through support from the European Union (EU) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), as well as teacher training support from local partners.
 
Save the Children has worked in Thailand since 1979 to support children most impacted by discrimination and inequality running  programmes on education, child protection, livelihood, and child rights governance.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: Mala Darmadi on 0425562113 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au. 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

[1] https://www.unicef.org/thailand/reports/education-knows-no-border.
[2] https://www.theborderconsortium.org/where-we-work/camps-in-thailand/.

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