Ministries collaborate to help stateless students

Thailand’s outreach to society’s most vulnerable members extended further last week as the Ministries of Education and the Interior announced they are joining forces to help over 90,000 stateless school children in the Kingdom receive Thai nationality and identification cards so they have access to the full range of educational and other social services.

The two ministries “are making a concerted effort to ensure these schoolchildren are granted Thai nationality so they can have access to basic rights, particularly public health benefits,” said Surapong Kongchantuk, a member of a subcommittee at the Ministry of Education focusing on the issue of stateless students.

Thailand has the largest number of stateless children and young adults in Southeast Asia, according to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The Kingdom’s economy makes it a magnet for migrants, the country has many remote communities where births were not registered, and many ethnic people in the area have traditionally roamed across borders rendering them officially stateless.

But the U.N. and others have praised Thailand’s efforts in recent years to address the issue of statelessness and stateless children. In late 2016, the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha issued a resolution and guidelines to government agencies to register as many stateless children as possible and grant them Thai citizenship.

The resolution showed the Thai government’s “strong political will to reduce statelessness among children,” said Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, the representative in Thailand for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees).

Thailand has endorsed UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024 and its goal of achieving zero statelessness. The U.N. Agency said the Kingdom is becoming a leader among the “Group of Friends” of the Campaign.

Surapong of the Education Ministry said that the Interior Ministry had combed its database of the country’s 14.8 million schoolchildren and found that 90,708 did not have Thai identification numbers.

Upon completion of the check, the Interior Ministry issued instructions to the governors of all 77 provinces to set up committees to get the children registered. Each committee will consist of school directors, heads of district public health units, district chiefs, village heads, and community leaders.

The two provinces with the highest numbers of stateless school children are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north, which borders Myanmar and Laos and is home to many tribal and ethnic peoples.