Re: “Citizenship of three young cave survivors shines light on plight of stateless persons”, National, July 12.
As a naturalised Thai myself, I have great sympathy for the estimated 500,000 stateless persons born in Thailand, who are unable to enjoy the rights of citizenship, as cited in your article. Although things were improved somewhat by the 2008 amendment to the Nationality Act, now would be a good time for the government to do more to ease their plight. The 2008 amendment provided a path to citizenship for those born in the Kingdom to alien parents before December 13 1992, if they can present evidence in the form of civil registration documents that they have been continuously resident in Thailand and have never been in trouble with the authorities. Since none of the three stateless cave survivors was born before December 13 1992, they are, unfortunately, not eligible for citizenship by this route. The only way they can obtain citizenship as minors is for their parents to apply for naturalisation and have their children apply along with them. However, to qualify for naturalisation the parents, as stateless minorities, need to prove an income of at least Bt20,000 a month, if they have alien ID cards, for three years backed up with tax receipts and work permits. Without alien ID cards they would need to prove income of Bt40,000 a month.
I suspect these income levels plus the documentary evidence are extremely difficult for stateless hilltribe people to achieve, given the restrictions they face on working or even travelling outside their own districts.
Half a million stateless people who are culturally Thai present a neglible threat to national security or Thai cultural identity and naturalising them would turn them into fully productive citizens who are able to contribute fully to the economy and society. The government should seriously consider providing a route to citizenship for those born in the Kingdom to alien parents after December 13 1992, as well as streamlining a procedure which usually takes many years and is often deliberately made difficult or impossible by recalcitrant local officials.