3 stateless cave survivors get help to gain Thai citizenship

Coach and two of the boys will be given legal aid and may become citizens in six months

The team's coach Ekkapol Chantawong (left), along with two of the boys, Pornchai Kamluang (centre) and Adul Sam-on, are among the 500,000 stateless people in Thailand who have to endure limitations in many aspects of their life. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK

BANGKOK • Two of the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach who were rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand will receive legal assistance in the nationality verification process and, if all goes well, they could expect to receive Thai citizenship in six months.

Thailand's Interior Ministry and the Children and Youth Department have confirmed that assistant coach Ekkapol Chantawong and two of the boys, Pornchai Kamluang and Adul Sam-on, are stateless, following media reports of their plight and the difficulties faced by 500,000 stateless people living in Thailand.

The authorities have promised to give the trio legal assistance in the nationality verification process. If everything goes smoothly, all of them will have Thai nationality within six months.

The stateless people, mostly ethnic minorities living near the border areas, have to endure restrictions in many aspects of their life because they are denied some rights and opportunities.

Activists said many stateless people have to wait for a decade to get Thai citizenship because of the slow verification process.

Mr Surapong Kongchantuk, a prominent activist on human rights and nationality issues, said that although the Thai government has provided basic rights, including compulsory education and healthcare, for all people in Thailand, the lack of citizenship meant that stateless people are denied access to many fundamental rights, such as travelling abroad, getting higher education or employment in some careers. As a result, they do not have many opportunities to improve their lives.

According to Mr Surapong, stateless people can ask for nationality verification at their local administrative organisation in order to acquire Thai citizenship. They must provide proof of their birth and lineage, and that they were born to a Thai national parent. Ethnic minorities born in Thailand are eligible to get Thai nationality.

Otherwise, they can submit a bachelor's degree or diploma, or ask for a special grant from the Thai government, to get Thai nationality, he said.

Despite this, Mr Surapong said the procedure to verify and seek Thai nationality is slow and complicated because local administrative organisations often do not have enough staff to deal with the overwhelming number of requests for nationality verification.

Legal Status Network Foundation chairman Santiphong Moonphong said he hoped the nationality status of the three survivors from the Tham Luang cave would bring the problems of stateless people to public attention and secure prompt solutions from the government.

Back in the 12 rescued boys' home town of Mae Sai, in Chiang Rai province, their teammates had not practised together since the group went missing on June 23.

The remaining team members waited for news that the entire rescue mission had succeeded on Tuesday before returning for training on Thursday evening, on a field where they are eager to see their friends again soon.

"I want to tell the guys that I miss them and that I want to hug them," Wild Boars teammate Supaghid Pragaihong said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 3 stateless cave survivors get help to gain Thai citizenship. Subscribe