'15k stateless children in Sabah denied schooling'

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The royal commission of inquiry (RCI) on immigrants in Sabah was today told that some 15,000 children in the state were denied access to schools as they were not recognised by the government.

Taking the stand as the fourth witness today, the Chief Minister's Department's internal affairs and research secretary Moktar Yassin Ajam explained that they were mostly the third and fourth generation of Filipino refugees who were recognised between 1976 to 1984.

"These group are known as stateless children as they do not have documents such as birth certificates, so they are not accepted into schools," he said.

However, he said the federal government and NGOs had set up special schools for them.

"But they are only provided basic education, they will never be allowed into the school system," he told the RCI hearing at the Kota Kinabalu High Court this morning.

He added that there were several reasons for the children of refugees turning stateless, including the failure of parents to obtain birth certificates for them.

Moktar Yassin said these children were part of 33,019 Filipinos in the state that were accidentally left out during the first round of registration between 1976 to 1984 despite qualifying for refugee status and or are their third or fourth generation of descendants.

He said these refugees and their descendants that were left out were only discovered following a new census done from 2007 to 2010.

The RCI yesterday was told that the Berjaya-led government had between 1976 and 1984 granted refugee status and resettled some 73,000 Filipinos in Sabah following the conflict in Mindanao.

They were granted a settlement identification card and the IMM13 document ( Pas Lawatan Pekerja ) which recognised them as refugees in Sabah.

"We have tried to register those who were left out but we have stopped this effort because of a procedural problem as the Immigration Department has ceased issuing IMM3 documents since 2005," Moktar said.

As such, he said there are over 33,000 children of refugees who do not have documentation, half of whom are children who are vulnerable to arrest during enforcement operations.

He added that both the federal and state governments should work together in granting them refugee status, particularly for the children whose future depends upon it.

[More to follow]

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