Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 24th 2015 Contents A39
May 24, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
"Authorities often conduct checks
and the children live in constant fear,"
said Flora Yohanes, a teacher at a
makeshift school run by a Malaysian
NGO in Sabah.
With public schools off-limits to
undocumented children, many attend
rudimentary schools run by NGOs.
About 80 students aged seven to 12,
whose parents are Indonesia and
Malaysia have an informal agreement
that the children will not be detained
while they are in class, but they are at
risk of arrest outside the school com-
When the children hear that police
are conducting checks, Yohanes said
they often stay away from school for
Yohanes said children often hide in
the forest overnight to avoid police.
"When they are with their parents,
they are no longer under the protection
of the school. That s why they are told
to run," she said.
Dying to stay out of jail
The children do not always escape.
"When the students get arrested, as
teachers we are saddened," Yohanes
"Sometimes we can t sleep pondering
the fate of the students, and trying to
figure out how to help free the students
In some cases, the teachers are able
to help get their students released. But
some students are detained for more
than three months before being deport-
ed.Sometimes, children s attempts to
evade authorities can be deadly.
In March, three teenage brothers died
while hiding from police underneath a
fish market in the town of Lahad Datu.
The boys parents came to Sabah in
the 1970s to escape civil war in the
Philippines Mindanao province. All of
their ten children were born in Malaysia.
Their mother, Erma Manding, is
grief-stricken over the loss of three of
"It would be better if I died," she
said, sitting on the floor on their floating
wooden home, surrounded by relatives.
Authorities say the boys had already
drowned by the time they found them.
But some locals said that authorities
sprayed toxic gas and suffocated the
boys. Police have denied this claim.
Commander Abdul Rashid Harun,
head of the Eastern Sabah Security
Command, said authorities conduct
daily checks to track down undocu-
mented migrants and their children.
Authorities sent home more than
18,000 undocumented migrants from
Sabah last year.
The command was set up in 2013 to
beef up security in eastern Sabah after
an attack by Sulu rebels from the south-
Malaysian forces fought them off
and since then, they ve been cracking
down harder on people without doc-
Locals often blame stateless children
for a range of social ills.
An undocumented life
Jerry Abbas, 37, knows what it s like
to grow up stateless.
His father is Bajau and his mother
Malaysian, but they never registered
his birth. He said he found it impossible
to find a secure job before he finally
got his Malaysian passport five years
"This document is my life," he said.
"If I don t have the document, that is
the end of my life."
Becoming legal opened the door for
him to teach at a makeshift school run
for Bajau children.
He said undocumented children often
grow up in poverty and some resort to
glue sniffing to stave off hunger.
In Semporna, on Sabah s east coast,
children buy glue by the spoonful in
plastic bags. Used bags litter the ground.
"They are very poor," said Abbas.
"They don t have enough food to eat.
By using glue, they can sleep well."
The prospects for stateless children
may seem dim but some, like Maslina
Madsail, have high hopes of clawing
their way out of poverty and into main-
Maslina, who attends Abbas school
and lives in a small hut with 26 relatives,
already works to help her family make
ends meet, selling plastic bags to shop-
pers at a fish market.
She said she wants to be an immi-
gration officer when she grows up so
that she can give her family passports.
But in a country that does not even
recognise her existence, that goal is
likely to remain far beyond her reach.
Above: Hunted down in a
place they call home, an
uncertain future faces the
stateless children of Sabah.
Right: A Bajau Laut father
teaches his children how to
mend a net.
Continues from Page A38
Not allowed to step out of this palm oil estate for fear of arrest, undocumented
children rely on discarded tyres and their imagination for a bit of fun.
blamed for social ills
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