THE 17-YEAR-OLD stateless schoolgirl Yonladee Phiyatat, who was granted Thai nationality last week and received her passport yesterday, is getting ready to participate in the Genius Olympiad in New York next month.
Ranong Governor Chatupoj Piyumputra and teachers from Stree Ranong School accompanied Yonladee to the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Consular Affairs in Bangkok to apply for her Thai passport. The department’s director-general Chatri Archjananun was at hand to welcome the group.
After receiving the travel document, Yonladee said she was very happy and thanked everybody who helped her get it. Her next step is applying for a US visa for the upcoming trip.
The girl’s request for Thai citizenship was quickly approved earlier last week, after she went public over her fear of losing the opportunity to participate in the contest. Her Facebook post immediately won her public sympathy and attention from relevant authorities.
Despite being born and brought up in Thailand, Yonladee did not automatically receive Thai citizenship because her parents were foreign migrants. Now, finally a citizen, she has promised to do her best to win her country fame at the contest.
Meanwhile, another Chiang Rai-based stateless schoolgirl, 18-year-old Nampeung Panya, who received her Thai citizenship around the same time as Yonladee, departed for the US yesterday to take part in the “Intel International Science and Engineering Fair” in Phoenix, Arizona today.
Before leaving, the Mathayom 6 schoolgirl – who was born in Thailand to Shan migrant parents – vowed to make Thailand proud by presenting the school project for a rice seed-coating substance that boosts the grain’s water-holding capacity. She has been working on this innovation since she was in Mathayom 3.
Nampeung, a student at Damrongratsongkroh School, nearly missed out on competing in the fair, as her application for a US visa had been turned down twice due to her statelessness. The determined girl had reportedly spent Bt10,000 weekly travelling back and forth from Chiang Rai to Bangkok to obtain the required documents. However, it was only after her story caught public attention, that the Provincial Administration Department fast-tracked her Thai citizenship, resulting in a US visa being issued for her on Monday.
The girl said she only wanted to get a US visa so she could present her team’s project at the fair, adding that she planned to later follow up on her Thai citizenship application, which she had submitted a year ago. Getting both her citizenship and the US visa in one go was a dream come true, she said.
Nampeung said her parents never let her wait for opportunities to show up, but instead supported her studies, her school projects and use of the English language until her application to Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Associated Medical Sciences was accepted.
Hence, she said, all stateless children who share the same fate as her should continue sharpening their potential, never look down on themselves and be prepared to meet the requirements when applying for Thai nationality.
“Once you obtain Thai citizenship, I urge you to repay the country that has given you a chance,” she said.
Tuenjai Deetes, who chairs the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team working on stateless and ethnic minorities, congratulated Nampeung and commended related agencies, including the Interior and Foreign ministries, for helping her get the documents so she could fly to the US.
Tuanjai said Nampeung’s case was a sign that related agencies and parties saw the importance of solving the legal status of stateless children and supporting their potential. It was also good that people are becoming aware of this issue, she said.
She hoped that Nampeung’s case could be a model leading to a joint effort to tackle legal issues that deter stateless people’s access to basic rights, and that they are granted citizenship in a faster and more efficient manner.