NCILJ Symposium 2019: The Statelessness of Hill Tribes in Thailand

The issue of statelessness plagues many individuals in Thailand.[i]While the exact number is not known, it is estimated that well over one million individuals lack Thai citizenship.[ii]Many of the individuals who lack citizenship are members of Thailand’s northern hill tribes.[iii]Thailand’s northern hill tribes include members of the Akna, Lanu, Lisu, Yao, Shan, Hmong, and Karen ethnic communities.[iv]Although these hill tribes have lived in the region for generations, they do not hold citizenship.[v]

Thais have denied members of the hill tribes citizenship since the “influx of refugees and migrants” beginning in the 1980s.[vi]The issue of statelessness in Thailand continued due to issues such as national borders moving over the years.[vii]Furthermore, individuals living in remote areas have limited information about procedures and laws and consequently have ended up stateless without any documentation.[viii]

Individuals who lack citizenship face many problems and are at risk of being exploited and abused.[ix]They are unable to “vote, buy land, seek legal employment, work in certain occupations, or travel freely.”[x]Individuals who lack citizenship may not be allowed to attend school.[xi]Furthermore, those who lack citizenship are at a much higher risk of becoming victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.[xii]

Efforts have been made to address the problem of the millions who are stateless in Thailand.[xiii]In 2017, there were 438,821 registered stateless people living in Thailand.[xiv]A resolution was proposed that would allow approximately “80,000 people [who] are the offspring of registered stateless people to begin the citizenship process.”[xv]To be eligible, individuals must be born in Thailand with parents who are ethnic minorities, registered with the government, and Thai residents of at least 15 years.[xvi]Local NGOs have hosted events to educate government officials on the complex laws and discuss misconceptions about helping stateless people.[xvii]While some government officials do not understand the complex application process, others are prejudiced and do not want those within the hill tribe communities to become Thai citizens.[xviii]Yet as a result of the efforts of the NGOs, government officials felt more confident in the process and were encouraged to help stateless individuals.[xix]With continued efforts to eliminate statelessness, it is possible that the issue of statelessness in Thailand will end within the next decade.[xx]

 

[i]The International Observatory on Statelessness, http://www.nationalityforall.org/thailand(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[ii]Id.

[iii]Id.

[iv]Id.

[v]More Than 900 Hill Tribe People Are Now Thai Citizens-And That’s Just The Beginning, International Justice Mission,https://www.ijm.org/news/more-than-900-hill-tribe-people-are-now-thai-citizens-and-thats-just-the-beginning/(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[vi]The International Observatory on Statelessness, http://www.nationalityforall.org/thailand(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[vii]From Stateless to Citizen: Thailand’s Path to Citizenship for 80,000 Stateless Residents, Coconuts Bangkok(Jan. 5, 2017), https://coconuts.co/bangkok/news/stateless-citizen-thailands-path-citizenship-80000-stateless-residents/.

[viii]Id. 

[ix]More Than 900 Hill Tribe People Are Now Thai Citizens-And That’s Just The Beginning, International Justice Mission, https://www.ijm.org/news/more-than-900-hill-tribe-people-are-now-thai-citizens-and-thats-just-the-beginning/(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[x]The International Observatory on Statelessness, http://www.nationalityforall.org/thailand(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[xi]More Than 900 Hill Tribe People Are Now Thai Citizens-And That’s Just The Beginning, International Justice Mission, https://www.ijm.org/news/more-than-900-hill-tribe-people-are-now-thai-citizens-and-thats-just-the-beginning/(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[xii]Id.

[xiii]See From Stateless to Citizen: Thailand’s Path to Citizenship for 80,000 Stateless Residents, Coconuts Bangkok(Jan. 5, 2017), https://coconuts.co/bangkok/news/stateless-citizen-thailands-path-citizenship-80000-stateless-residents/.

[xiv]Id.

[xv]Id.

[xvi]Id.

[xvii]More Than 900 Hill Tribe People Are Now Thai Citizens-And That’s Just The Beginning, International Justice Mission, https://www.ijm.org/news/more-than-900-hill-tribe-people-are-now-thai-citizens-and-thats-just-the-beginning/(last visited Feb. 15, 2019).

[xviii]Id.

[xix]Id.

[xx]From Stateless to Citizen: Thailand’s Path to Citizenship for 80,000 Stateless Residents, Coconuts Bangkok(Jan. 5, 2017), https://coconuts.co/bangkok/news/stateless-citizen-thailands-path-citizenship-80000-stateless-residents/.