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More than 1.3mil non-M'sians in Sabah: Don
Published on: Friday, July 21, 2017
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Kota Kinabalu: More than half of the estimated 2.6 million non-Malaysians including refugees, undocumented, stateless and migrant workers living in this country are in Sabah. The data, taken from a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in 2015 also showed that out of the total, 451,900 are children and young people aged 19 and below.

"In 2008, Malaysia was the second most popular refugee hotspot after Kenya. Data in 2011 reported there were more than 72,000 children in Malaysia under the age of 15 who lived in difficult conditions without the means to fulfil their own basic needs.

"Some may be second generation stateless children borne of stateless parents," said Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Professor of Education Dr. Vincent Pang during his paper presentation on 'Education for Stateless Children in Malaysia' at the Inaugural BIMP-EAGA Higher Education Summit here Wednesday.

Another data from Unicef in 2012 estimated around 44,000 Malaysian children in the country born to illegal immigrants lived in the streets and did not attend school. They were also not considered citizens.

Two years later in Sabah, the situation grew grimmer with reportedly 50,000 stateless children having no access to health and education services.

A more recent report from the Federal Special Task Force in Sabah and Labuan in 2016 estimated 30,000 children born of undocumented parents, which automatically renders the children undocumented.

Pang explained that stateless children include local children who were unregistered due to lack of knowledge and abject poverty for example the Sea Gypsies and even those living in the remote areas of Sabah.

Children also become stateless if they were born to migrant workers and their births were unregistered at the respective consulate, thus making it impossible to trace their family's country of origin.

"These are the invisible children in Sabah; the stateless children, dependent children of foreign workers, those born from mixed marriages, those whose marriages were unregistered, children born soon after marriage, even children from indigenous groups.

"In 2002, the government of Malaysia amended the Education Act 1996 to limit access to free education to non-Malaysian citizens namely children of foreigners without proper documentation but residing in Malaysia who need to pay school fees to attend government schools.

"This means they only have access to alternative learning centres (ALCs) whose curriculum are sometimes inadequate as they are not pegged to the formal national system," he said.

Furthermore, he said since ALCs mostly cater for primary-level education, the future of stateless children remains uncertain because of limited options to continue schooling after Primary 6.

The majority who exited after completing Primary 6 would go on to find employment that fits their age and level of intellect and competency.

Currently, said Pang there are 369 ALCs in Sabah with the Indonesian government providing 208 centres for Indonesian children, 137 by Humana Child Aid Society Sabah for mainly plantation workers' children, 12 centres by the National Security Council, eight for Bajau Laut, six by ALCs supported by the Philippines Embassy and another six by a faith-based NGO.

Only 10 per cent of the refugee and undocumented children are enrolled in the 12 NSC-run centres in Sabah while 180 dropouts were reported in June 2015 across all ALCs for reasons such as parents relocating to another part of Malaysia, parents preferring them to work and for girls, 'to help with family chores'.

"But the biggest issue is stigmatisation. The locals have this mentality about migrants that they are untrustworthy and dishonest because of the negative information reported by the media.

"More than 80 per cent of locals blamed migrants for socio-cultural problems and they also think migrants have health and hygiene problems while some even resented them because they perceive these people as stealing jobs," he said.

Pang proposed the government of Malaysia to remove the negative stigma and change the people's mindset towards stateless children and ensure that no one is left out when it comes to education.

"We need to make mainstream education system accessible to all or develop and implement a comprehensive alternative education programme that will provide pathways for studies at higher levels and even gainful employment," he said.

Furthermore, he proposed that an inter-governmental taskforce between governments within BIMP-EAGA be set up to address education related issues and establish education policies for stateless children with trans-border history.

Some issues that could affect education include socio-economic development, border control, documentation and security while the policies drawn up should address the problem of education access, curriculum and its quality framework as well as human capital development for the common good for BIMP-EAGA.

He said the taskforce would be an ideal platform to discuss other issues such as the pooling and sharing of information and resources such as finance, human resource, mechanism and facilities and materials for the education needed.


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