On 27 March, I travelled to western Thailand to visit the European Union funded global citizenship programme. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, the programme promotes critical life skills and helps to create a harmonized atmosphere in schools to make the integration of new students including migrant children easier. It emphasizes openness toward people from other cultures, respect for cultural otherness and global-mindedness.
Many children find school daunting at first and migrant children face particular challenges. Many of them do not speak Thai as their first language which leads to feelings of isolation, literacy problems and lower academic achievement. Some are unable to start school with their peers of the same age group due to literacy barriers.
Migrant children also need to be given time to adjust to the new school environment when they first start. Support from teachers, friends and school communities are crucial and could determine the success of a migrant child’s education.
While at Baan Ta Art School, I met a group of children from year 6 who worked on a book project together. Developing storylines and very colorful illustrations on important child rights issues gave them the chance to talk about their differences and similarities.
“It was a lot of fun to discover different practices we have in Myanmar and Thailand when greeting each other and celebrating important holidays”, one of the students shared.
In Thailand, there are an estimated 4 to 5 million migrants originating largely from neighbouring countries such as, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. This has resulted in a concentration of migrants in specific areas such as Mahachai, Samut Sakorn province, one of the largest industrial fishing hubs in the country.
Tak is one of the provinces that many migrants live and work because it shares a border with Myanmar, many workers commute daily between the two countries. The migrant population in Tak has created a unique social diversity in the province, including in schools. This kind of environment is a good opportunity for children to learn about different cultures and respect diversity.
I saw this when I visited the home of Watcharapong, now 16 years old, who moved from Myanmar to Thailand when he was 4 months old. In his house close to the river that forms the border with Myanmar he chats with his grandmother and switches smoothly from Thai to Myanmar language.
“I walk to school every morning with my friends from this migrant community. In school we meet our other friends and we all play and laugh together. I love to play football with them. Some of my Thai friends want to learn the Myanmar language and I help them.”
In Thailand, the European Union, UNICEF and the Government of Thailand have a three -year partnership to protect the rights of children affected by migration in the country.
Thailand has policies and legislation in place to provide education, healthcare and child protection services to all children including children from migrant communities, but a large number of migrant children still face multiple challenges in accessing affordable and quality services. Migrant children are still being left out for many reasons, including social stigma, poverty, frequent movement, inadequate service coverage as well as a lack of awareness and knowledge about how to access available services.
One aim of the partnership is to improve access to health care and education services for migrant and stateless children. This includes working with education authorities to identify and address challenges such as transportation and language barriers as well as advocating for a good practice to ensure the education system and schools are more inclusive and responsive to the needs of migrant children.
Protecting children affected by migration in Southeast, South, and Central Asia is a project implemented by UNICEF and co-funded by the European Union and UNICEF. The eight countries included in the programme are Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Thailand and Uzbekistan.