The coach and three stateless members of the Wild Boars football team who were rescued from the flooded Tham Luang cave complex after more than two weeks underground are technically stateless and not considered citizens under Thai law, leaving them without many of the rights their teammates enjoy.
The players Pornchai Kamluang, Adul Sam-on and Mongkhol Boonpiam, plus their coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, whose families come from northern Thailand’s porous and largely lawless border regions abutting Myanmar’s Shan state.
The three boys have Thai ID cards, which grant them some basic rights, but the coach has no legal status, making him vulnerable to deportation and technically ineligible to receive some public services.
Puttanee Kangkun, a Thai human rights specialist for Fortify Rights, said a lack of citizenship meant the four had limited rights.
“Under Thai law, stateless persons are still able to obtain some basic rights such as the right to education and access to health service. This is why some of these boys who are stateless are able to go to school, despite their status. Their rights are, however, limited in other areas – mainly the right to work and freedom of movement, as they need to seek permission to travel outside of their province and will also face difficulties applying for a passport.”
The Bureau of Registration at the Thai interior ministry, confirmed his office was looking into granting citizenship to the four. “Right now, the officials in Mae Sai district office are looking into their birth evidence. We have to see whether they were born in Thailand, and whether they have either a Thai father or mother.”
Asked how long it would take, he told the Guardian: “I have no idea. It depends on whether we find the documents.”
Pim, a campaigner for the rights of stateless people in northern Thailand explained that many stateless people eligible for citizenship in Thailand failed to get it because they lacked legal knowledge and faced a system that she said was corrupt and discriminatory. “I read that some people called the coach Burmese, just because he doesn’t have a Thai ID,” she said.