The International Observatory on Statelessness


The exact number of stateless people in Thailand is unknown but it is likely that there are 2-3.5 million. Thailand’s northern hill tribe people, who include members of the Akna, Lanu, Lisu, Yao, Shan, Hmong, and Karen ethnic communities, number around two million. NGOs report that 337,000 to almost half of them lack Thai citizenship, and are unable to vote, buy land, seek legal employment, work in certain occupations or travel freely. Since an influx of refugees and migrants into Thailand in the 1980s, the Thais have denied hill tribe people citizenship.

In 2001, the Thai Cabinet granted temporary residency rights for one year to those who had previously taken part in a government survey and others lacking identification. To secure citizenship, they had to show that they, and at least one of their parents, had been born in Thailand. These requirements are difficult for those born in remote mountain areas and who lack documentation or other evidence of birthplace and parentage. Following the expiration of the most recent filing deadline, many hill tribe people are considered illegal migrants or stateless. An inter-ministerial taskforce was created to propose solutions for acquisition of Thai nationality and systematic birth registration.

Several million Burmese live in Thailand, having fled persecution and economic deprivation in their country of origin. About 150,000 refugees have been allowed to live in temporary refugee camps, leaving more than two million others to live outside the camps illegally. Small numbers of illegal persons are also inside the camps. Children born to Burmese in Thailand are ineligible for citizenship either in Burma or in Thailand.

The number of stateless children in Thailand is unknown, but some estimate the number might be close to 100,000 in border towns such as Mae Sot and Ranong. Estimates also suggest 3,000 to 15,000 children are born every year to some 500,000 migrant workers, who are mainly from Laos, Vietnam, and Burma.

In 2006, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that two million stateless people would
be granted Thai citizenship. The plan was projected to cover various groups of stateless people, including children studying in schools in Thailand and immigrants who have been living in the kingdom for at least 10 consecutive years. Thaksin, however, was overthrown later that year, and processes for obtaining citizenship in Thailand have not been reformed.