Babies abandoned by migrants in Phuket due to cost, insurance row

The pregnant Myanmar migrant worker (the woman on the pink) works in a market in Phuket. Photo Pratch Rujivanarom

A MIGRANT workers support group in Phuket has revealed major concerns about nationality status, with workers from Myanmar abandoning babies at public hospitals. There have also been reports of migrant workers unable to obtain birth certificates for children.

More than 10 newborn babies were left at public hospitals in Phuket every year, Sumana Pakburawat from the Diocesan Social Action Centre said.

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She said the reason behind such tragic abandonment was mainly financial, as many migrant workers were poor but not able to use free healthcare rights under their Universal Coverage insurance – or because they never had insurance in the first place.

Sumana said many migrant workers were also unable to get records of their babies’ birth from hospital officials, so their children end up being unregistered and stateless – as their parents usually couldn’t show proof on the identity of their employer.

These problems were common in Phuket, but rare elsewhere, she said.

“Our organisation is working hard to help hospitals find the parents or relatives of abandoned babies, because if we do not do that, the babies won’t be able to be identified and registered, which will lead to a nationality problem [and lack of vital identity documents] for them in the future. And that doesn’t include the moral reasons,” she said.

“Luckily, we have been able to find the relatives of babies in most cases and have helped return the children to their families. But many are less fortunate and left in the care of the hospital.”

She gave the example of a case last month of a baby born with a defective nervous system who was left at Vachira Phuket Hospital, because the mother could not pay the expensive cost of complex treatment for her child. To date, the hospital and her group have been unable to find relatives of this baby.

Surapong Kongchantuk, a member of the Thai Public Broadcasting Service board of governors and a campaigner on minorities’ rights, said in cases of babies or children who are abandoned and their parents can’t be found, the official order is that the Social Development and Human Security Ministry will take care of the children until they are adopted or reach 18.

Surapong stressed that the law says hospitals cannot deny people who have universal coverage the right to use their insurance benefits. If they do, they are violating the law, as the cost for neonatal services is included in migrant workers’ universal coverage insurance.

Sumana said another problem that hinders the children of migrant workers getting nationality documents stemmed from an extra requirement demanded by public hospitals in Phuket, who say the identification of the employer must be presented to verify migrant workers’ status.

“Many migrant workers from Myanmar come to our organisation to seek assistance from us to get records of birth for their children, because hospitals refused to hand them a birth certificate report, as they failed to present them an identification of their employer,” she said.

She said that if children had no birth records, local authorities would not register them and give them a birth certificate and they cannot register for nationality in their home country either.

“These problems have already caused many offspring of migrant workers to become stateless people. We have a lot of cases of stateless people that we are helping, but we cannot exactly estimate the total number in Phuket,” she said.

But Surapong said hospitals were obligated under the law to issue a birth record to everyone who gives birth at their hospital.

-The Nation

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