Thai cave rescue highlights plight of stateless people

My latest dispatch for Channel NewsAsia and (hopefully) the last one from Chiang Rai for now: 4 members of the Wild Boars football club hat have been rescued out of the Tham Luang Cave in Nothern Thailand are stateless and thus have very little basic rights compared to their teammates. There's some hope that their rescue would bring this issue to a bigger attention.


On the most northern point of Thailand is the small town of Mae Sai, bordering neighboring Myanmar.

It is from there that many people seek a better life on this side of the border, both legally or illegally. 

Over generations, different ethnic tribes from Southern China, Myanmar and Laos have criss-crossed through the open borders on the hills into Northern Thailand.

According to official statistics, nearly 500,000 are registered as stateless – but the actual number is estimated to be much higher. many of them are living in the northern border regions.

Four members of the "Wild Boars" football club are among them, including their coach Ekapol Chanthawong. The 25-year old is from the ethnic Shan tribe. He came to Thailand as a young boy after his parents’ death and grew up in a Buddhist temple.

Many stateless children can get a basic education at any school in Thailand. It is here when they are first documented.

"We coordinate with the local Municipality office. We do this every year. We all have the kids' documents and we pass them to the responsible offices which in turn contact those kids so they can get their IDs. We've done this for many kids."

But growing up stateless in Thailand has many hurdles.

SAKSITH SAIYSOMBUT, Chiang Rai province:
"Stateless people face many more restrictions: they can’t leave the province without a permit, they can’t open a bank account, they can’t get married or own land. There’s a process for them to obtain citizenship, but it is a long and bureaucratic one."

Khamaun Namwong’s mother came to Thailand after fleeing from armed conflict in neighboring Myanmar. But because her birth was undocumented, her application process has hit a roadblock. 

While the 24 year old has lived a relatively normal life within the legal limits so far, a Thai citizenship would be the final step to complete her life. 

KHAMAUN NAMWONG; Stateless person:
"What I need is a Thai citizenship. It would expand my opportunities Because now without it, the circle of limitations is only about that big. But with a citizenship, it would broaden it wide open."

The hope for the stateless members of the Wild Boars is that their survival story may speed up their citizenship process. 

It would be another major victory for the boys.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Chiang Rai Province