Half a million stateless people in Thailand have no right to have rights

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Aug 3 (efe-epa).- Tuk Chantorn was born in Bangkok and her two parents were Thai, but her birth was not registered and at 62, lives as a de facto stateless person, a legal anomaly that affects about half a million people in Thailand.

After a life of setbacks that includes having spent 13 years in jail and the death of two daughters, Tuk wants to claim her citizenship to do things as simple as being treated in public hospitals, but the lack of documents confronts her with a Kafkaesque. bureaucratic process.

This is a special case in Thailand, where most stateless people are members of ethnic minorities and children of immigrants, but in practice, they lack citizenship, considered the “right to have rights.”

“Sometimes (the police) want to see your identity card when you go out, so I want to have that. I will also have some benefits and rights,” said Tuk, who knows she was born in 1958 but not the month or the day.

The Thai woman spends late mornings and the afternoon in a small store in her relatives’ home where she sells soft drinks, trinkets and fried chicken in a shantytown and sub-housing in the Klong Toei district of Bangkok.

Since she never went to school, Tuk is illiterate, although she knows the numbers and her neighbors help her when she receives food orders at home through a mobile application.

Tuk does not clarify if she receives any salary, but she says it’s hard for her to pay the 300 baht (about $9) that she pays weekly for medicines for hypertension, something that would be free for her if she were recognized as a Thai citizen.

According to the legal system, the way for Tuk to receive nationality is to prove with documents that she was born to Thai parents or rooted in the country, but she lacks both.

With the help of the Duang Prateep Foundation, a lawyer is searching the archives for document that will allow her to obtain nationality, but she has found nothing and does not even know how to write the father’s name.

She has an already 80-year-old and memory-impaired uncle and a cousin living in Klong Toei, but her lawyer says that a DNA test may not be enough to obtain citizenship.

In an email sent to EFE, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) states that “being undocumented is not the same as being stateless. However, the lack of a birth certificate poses the risk of becoming stateless.”

This is because the birth certificate proves where a person was born and who their parents are, key information required to determine nationality, according to the UNHCR, which estimates that there are 10 million stateless people in the world.

Tuk is not only the victim of a loophole, but her life has also been quite dysfunctional.

She was born in Bangkok, but her father separated from her mother and since then she lived in different places with him and his new wife.

Aged 10, she started working at a butcher in the Klong Toei grocery market and, after getting married at 15, became a homemaker and gave birth to three daughters in the following years.

Tuk said she started selling drugs due to financial problems until one day she was arrested with 2,000 methamphetamine pills and sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which she served 13.

Two of her daughters died when she was in prison, and her husband passed away shortly after she left prison three years ago.

UNHCR states that there are 474,888 stateless people accounted for in Thailand, adding that the authorities have recognized the nationality of 100,000 people since 2008, with legal progress in this regard.

Most of these stateless people who have gained citizenship are members of ethnic minorities living in border areas of the country, such as the coach and three of the 12 children rescued from a cave in northern Thailand in July 2018.

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