THAI authorities will grant citizenship to three of the 12 youth footballers who were rescued from the Tham Luang cave this week after it was found that they were stateless children.
The status of their nationalities was highlighted during the weeks-long ordeal where the Wild Boars team was trapped in the deep flooded cave in Chiang Rai, and now that they have been rescued, the government is looking to provide them legal assistance to verify their status.
The Interior Ministry and the Children and Youth Department said the three would be granted citizenship as early as within six months if there were no complications in their documents, The Nation reported.
According to the ministry, the three survivors, Ekkapol Chantawong, Phonchai Khamluang, and Adul Sam-on, all aged between 11 and 13, are among 500,000 stateless people living in Thailand. Due to their status, they face a myriad of challenges in their lives and are unable to gain access to some basic rights and opportunities.
Some of the stateless individuals seeking citizenship also face complications during the slow verification process as it can take up to 10 years to do so.
Rights activist, Surapong Kongchantuk, was quoted as saying that although the government provides some basic rights to the stateless individuals, they are deprived of the ability to travel abroad or gain higher education and pursue careers.
“Theoretically, all people must be under the care and protection of being a citizen of at least one state, but in reality there are more than 500,000 persons in Thailand who do not have any nationality, even though they are born and raised in Thailand,” Surapong said.
The activist said in order to gain Thai citizenship, stateless persons can ask for nationality verification at their local administrative organisation. This is done by providing proof of birth and lineage of their Thai heritage. The provisions for citizenship similarly apply for ethnic minorities.
Another way is to present their degree or diploma certificates to receive a special grant for Thai nationality.
Santiphong said added he hoped the issues faced by the three would raise bigger awareness on the plight of stateless people in the country in order for the government to find prompt solutions.