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UNHCR commends steps taken to grant citizenship to stateless students in Thailand

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

BANGKOK – In another welcome move to reduce statelessness in the country, the Royal Thai Government this week announced a nationwide review to verify the number of stateless students in Thailand and determine their eligibility for Thai citizenship.
On 14 March, the Ministry of Interior’s Permanent Secretary, Grisada Boonrach, announced that Thailand’s Department of Provincial Administration (DoPA) officially requested all districts to identify and issue legal status to eligible stateless students in Thailand recorded in the government’s database. This directive may benefit up to 65,000 students, about 15 per cent of the 443,862 people who were registered as stateless in Thailand as of the end of October last year. DoPA, which processes nationality applications, requested provinces that cover less than 1,000 stateless students to complete the review within 6 months. Governors of provinces with a high prevalence of stateless students, including Trat, Ratchaburi, Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, are required to directly supervise the work and provide monthly progress reports.
"Verifying stateless students across Thailand will help them to access nationality,” said Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand. “With legal status, they can enjoy the opportunities that other young Thais have. This can help them realise their full potential, lift their communities out of the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, and contribute towards Thai society.”
The announcement was made following the release of new Government statistics in December 2015, noting that 18,773 formerly stateless people were granted nationality in Thailand over the previous three years.
“The prospect of thousands of stateless students receiving legal status is yet another milestone in Thailand’s sustained efforts to end statelessness,” said Menikdiwela. “By committing to specific targets and timelines, the effort also provides an example to the region and underscores Thailand’s regional leadership role in addressing statelessness.”
To support these efforts, UNHCR has been working with the authorities and most recently with the NGO Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) to open Service Points in different schools in Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang and Mae Chan district. There stateless students and their families have been able to obtain nationality-related information and eventually lodge applications for birth registration, nationality, permanent residency and related civil status documentation. The project has engaged government officials in the district levels, school principals, community leaders as well as local civil societies, who have also been working on the issue of statelessness.
UNHCR has been mandated by the General Assembly to help to reduce the incidence of statelessness, which affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide.
In November 2014, it launched the Global Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024 by raising awareness on the plight of stateless people and offering a platform to support governments in reforming nationality legislation and adjusting policies aiming at reducing statelessness.