More stateless children granted Thai citizenship

The Kingdom that has given sanctuary to countless refugees and immigrants granted citizenship last week to another 342 stateless people, mostly students, from ethnic minority groups, as Thailand continues its policy of inclusiveness with a program that hopes to eventually establish citizenship for all hill tribe people born within its borders but who lack documentation.

“I’m so happy to finally get nationality after years of waiting,” Norae Pawiphonkun, a computer graduate from Kanchanaburi Rajabhat University, told The Nation newspaper. An ethnic Karen, she said she had applied for Thai citizenship three times after starting university.

With citizenship, once stateless people have access to government healthcare programs, education in Thai schools and other social services. They can obtain better jobs because of their legal status. They can also move and travel freely throughout the Kingdom.

Estimates of the number of stateless people in Thailand vary, but according to Santipong Moonfong, of the civil society group the Legal Status Network Foundation, the number is about 100,000. The majority of stateless people live in provinces along the border with Myanmar including Kanchanaburi, Tak, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.

“Students were the main beneficiaries in this round of applications for Thai citizenship,”said Bowansak Wanit, the deputy governor of western Kanchanaburi province near the border with Myanmar where the students live and the ceremony was held.

Most of the young people were members of the Karen tribe, an ethnic group some of whose members live in Thailand and others in Myanmar, where they are one of the largest ethnic minority groups. The Karen who received citizenship are native to Thailand, but Thailand is providing safe haven in refugee camps to tens of thousands of Karen who have fled decades of conflict in Myanmar. The Myanmar government is currently engaged in peace talks with the Karen.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has praised Thailand’s efforts to reduce statelessness. Thailand has endorsed UNHCR’s “#IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024” and its goal of achieving zero statelessness, becoming a leader among the “Group of Friends” of the Campaign.

Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand, said last year that measures taken “show the Royal Thai Government’s strong political will to reduce statelessness among children.”

“The international community welcomes the assurances given by the Thai government to pursue nationality solutions,” said Menikdiwela.

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