Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thai citizenship to grant stateless near Burma border

by Usa Pichai
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:36

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Citizenship will be granted by Thailand to displaced Thai villagers, who were in Burma, during demarcation by the British a hundred years ago.

Surapong Kongchantuek of the Committee to amend the Thailand Citizenship Act told Mizzima that “the committee will finalize the law that would grant citizenship to Thai villagers near Thailand and the southern Burma border, who became stateless during demarcation.”

The Act formulated would provide an opportunity for the stateless group near the Thailand–Cambodia border for more than 4,000 people that share the same problem.

The 20,000 or so villagers live in Thailand’s Ranong and Prachoub Kirikhan and Chumporn provinces, bordering southern Burma. They are descendants of ethnic Thais who found themselves marooned in Burma by a British colonial demarcation package in 1868. Burma’s rulers would have nothing to do with them. They also face discrimination by the Burmese government.

According to the group some had to contend with land confiscation by the Burmese military without any compensation and some were forced to work as porters for the army.

Gradually whole communities moved from Tavoy and Taninsari south of Burma to neighbouring Siam, now Thailand. But Siam also shunned them, and subsequent Thai governments refused to recognize them as Thai citizens. The stateless status has caused them to lose their rights to access education, medical and other facilities. In addition they also face arrest because they have no ID cards.

Pakawin Saengkong, the representative of the group, who lives in Ranong Province, said that the process of granting citizenship has progressed. He added that they had fought for their rights for nearly a decade together with rights groups and academics.

“Currently, the registered members of the group are in the process of being verified along with the family. The committee consists of representatives from the group and Thai authorities. About 3,800 have been verified as a first step. The group is expected to seek cabinet approval by the end of this year or early 2010,” he said.

In October 2006, about 500 of the group travelled to Bangkok and submitted a letter addressed to the British Embassy in Bangkok, pleading for support in their efforts to get Thai citizenship, which they said resulted from the 19th century British colonial carve-up of a border region of Burma and Siam making them stateless.

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