The rescue of the 12 boys and coach from a Thailand cave this month has spotlighted a problem facing perhaps 3.5 million people in the country: statelessness.
Three of the players and the 25-year-old assistant coach of the Mu Pa club soccer team are stateless. Their lack of citizenship restricts their upward mobility and even their right to travel outside of Chiang Rai, the northern province where they live.
And they are not anomalies. Of the 70 to 80 boys in the club’s four age brackets, around 20 are stateless, head coach Nopparat Kanthawong said in an interview.
Government statistics show 488,105 stateless people are registered in Thailand, but the real number could be as high as 3.5 million, the International Observatory on Statelessness says. They can’t vote, buy land, seek legal employment or travel freely, the group says.
Northern Thailand’s porous borders have long been a boon to migrants, making the region a melting pot of ethnic groups. But activists say the naturalization process for migrants is too difficult. (AP)