Thailand Opens Citizenship Path for 80,000 Stateless People

Pimuk Rakkanam
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170102-TH-stateless-1000 Single mother Manee (left), pictured with her daughter, holds up a copy of her newly acquired Thai national identity card, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Courtesy of UNHCR

Thailand’s cabinet has passed a resolution that could allow as many as 80,000 stateless people living in the country to apply for Thai citizenship, according to a government official and the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Thailand has a total registered population of 438,821 stateless people – those who are not considered citizens of any nation due to different circumstances, the agency says. According to the International Observatory on Statelessness, the exact number of stateless people in Thailand is unknown, but likely ranges between 2 to 3.5 million.

Under the resolution adopted Dec. 7 by Thailand’s military government, 80,000 people – mostly children of migrants and displaced people – would be eligible to apply for naturalization.

“Some 80,000 children and youths will benefit from the cabinet resolution that was passed recently. This will reduce the statelessness in Thailand,” Grisada Boonrach, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior, told BenarNews on Friday.

Thailand’s stateless population includes Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and members of the Karen, Mon, Hmong and other hill tribes, who cannot vote, buy land, get legal jobs or travel freely, according to the website of the International Observatory.

To obtain citizenship, Grisada said, eligible applicants will need to meet one of the following criteria: they were born in Thailand to parents from ethnic minority groups, registered by the Ministry of Interior, and have lived in Thailand for no less than 15 years; or they were born in Thailand to members of foreign groups and have graduated from university.

If they have not graduated yet, the ministry shall consider each case on an individual basis, Grisada explained.

Abandoned children whose parents are unknown can apply too if they are certified as such by a relevant agency under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and have lived in Thailand for no less than 10 years, he said.

‘I hope my children’s turn will come’

The Bangkok office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lauded the latest move by Thailand to open a path to citizenship for tens of thousands of stateless people.

According to UNHCR, Thailand has granted citizenship to more than 23,000 stateless people since 2012, as part of a worldwide campaign to end statelessness by 2024.

“This recent resolution builds on measures announced in the past few years by expanding the scope of eligibility and clarifying the criteria and procedures involved. They show the Royal Thai Government’s strong political will to reduce statelessness among children,” Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand, said in a statement on Dec. 29.

In 2016, according to UNHCR, the government asked all districts to identify and give legal status to registered and eligible stateless students, which could translate into temporary or permanent residency, if not Thai citizenship.

“Many stateless people and those at risk of statelessness in Thailand come from areas where national borders have changed, leaving their nationality in question,” according to an article published by the U.N.’s refugee agency in November.

“Some belong to ‘hill tribes’ living in remote areas with limited access to information about nationality procedures and who, in the past, lived without registration or identity documentation.”

The agency has been involved in a project in Chiang Rai, a northern province, to help stateless people acquire documents needed so they can study or work in Thailand, as well as overcome the bureaucratic hurdles in applying for citizenship. Through the project, Manee, a 39-year-old woman from the Lahu hill tribe (pictured), obtained citizenship and a national identity card in October, according to the article.

“Now that I have my card, I hope my children’s turn will come,” Manee told UNHCR. “They need to have DNA tests to obtain Thai nationality so that they can travel to places they couldn’t before.”


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