Statelessness in Thailand
Thailand has one of the world’s largest populations of stateless people with nearly 500,000 registered in 2020. NGOs and human rights activists believe the true number is much higher at up to 2 million. Statelessness refers to those lacking recognition of citizenship by any country. Without having a nationality, people lack access to basic necessities such as healthcare, education and social security. Here is some information about statelessness in Thailand.

Why Are People Stateless?

The cultural heterogeneity and rugged border regions of Thailand have long allowed indigenous cultures to live outside of the modern nation-state framework. Some stateless groups in Thailand’s border regions actively avoided becoming part of the Thai nation-state. They remained separate to maintain their own unique cultural customs. Discriminatory practices toward ethnic minorities by the ethnic Thais have also played a role in statelessness in Thailand.

Ethnic groups such as the Hmong, Akha, Karen and others are traditionally semi-nomadic and live throughout different Southeast Asian nations. They do not identify with one specific nation. In modern times, borders have become more solidified. The relative autonomy of indigenous cultures has largely existed within international borders. For indigenous children born within the Thai borders, their citizenship ties to their parents. These parents often lack documentation to prove that they were technically born in Thailand, which renders children stateless.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Other stateless people in Thailand are refugees from Burmese states just across the border. These refugees have endured decades of armed conflict against the central government. More than 100,000 Karen, Karenni, Shan and other groups arrived in the 1980s and 1990s to refugee camps along the Thai border. They have largely remained in these camps due to instability at home and the Thai government’s unwillingness to grant citizenship. These refugees also lack Burmese citizenship in many cases. With increased political and social instability following the recent 2021 military coup, this protracted refugee crisis will likely persist.

There are also stateless people that others know as the Moken or ‘Sea Gypsies’ in the south of Thailand, along with asylum seekers originating from dozens of countries in the Bangkok metropolitan area. Thai authorities struggle to formulate clear strategies on how to process citizenship requests for the many existing situations. Some can lay claim to ancestry within the modern Thai borders that stretch back hundreds of years. Others are more recent arrivals in need of human rights assistance.

Risk Factors of Statelessness in Thailand

There are innumerable challenges for stateless people in Thailand. Without having Thai citizenship, stateless people cannot travel freely across international borders. As a result, they fear detention and arrest while traveling within Thailand. There are also barriers to accessing legitimate jobs. This puts some at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking in trying to access decent livelihoods.

For young people, the lack of a decent education is a major concern. The Thai government has made an effort to educate all children within its borders, but stateless students are not able to access scholarships for higher education. Lack of access to decent health care and legal representation are other barriers facing stateless people.


Since 2016, Thailand has joined one of the central goals of the UNHCR to end statelessness worldwide by 2024 in its #IBelong campaign. The country has taken great efforts to reconfigure citizenship laws to allow tens of thousands to access Thai citizenship in recent years. Leading up to joining the #IBelong campaign, Thailand had loosened citizenship restrictions in 2008 with its amendment of the Thai Nationality Law. Although implementation has been slow, the processing of citizenship claims have ramped up with the help of UNHCR.

There have been highly publicized events uncovering the plight of stateless people, which include the Thai Cave Rescue in 2018, in which several of the rescued soccer team members and their coach were stateless at the time. The Thai government streamlined its citizenship procedures shortly after the rescue operation. The players and their coach had previously not been able to travel freely to play in games outside of their local area.

Increased Awareness

While the sheer number of stateless people in Thailand may make the 2024 deadline to end statelessness difficult to reach, there is more general awareness of the issue. That offers some hope in granting citizenship to large numbers in this population. Much of the recent stateless population is due to conflict in Myanmar, and others should commend Thailand for allowing refugees to remain in relative safety within its borders.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Laos Refugees
Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia and one of the last remaining communist nations. The Indochina War, which lasted for over 20 years, displaced about a quarter of the entire population resulting in major refugee migration.

Top 10 Facts about Laos Refugees:

  1. They are ethnically diverse. Laos has approximately 100 ethnic minorities. Many of these groups were cultivators who moved around regularly. They were disproportionately affected by the war.
  2. They come from the most heavily bombed country in the world. Between 1963 and 1974, the United States dropped two million tons of bombs on the Michigan-sized country. This is more than the amount dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.
  3. They are the victims of a “secret war.” The conflict in Laos was the CIA’s largest paramilitary operation. It was conceived as a way of “bypassing” the Geneva Accords. The Indochina War thus set the precedent for future large-scale secret wars.
  4. Many were first relocated to Thailand. When the U.S. removed military support in May 1975, it transported thousands of refugees into Thailand. By the end of that year, more than 40,000 other refugees had also fled to Thailand.
  5. Some have been living in Thai camps for over a decade. Many have chosen to make Thailand their new home, while some are still waiting for assurance of safety to return to Laos. Others are anticipating a reunion with family members before moving on to finally resettle in another country.
  6. Some were forcibly repatriated to Laos. Thailand began instituting increasingly restrictive measures for people to claim refugee status so that many would be obliged to return to Laos.
  7. They constitute the majority of Hmong refugees in the United States. Many of the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to serve as spies against the communists. As a result, when the communists seized control, many of the Hmong were forced to flee the country for their anti-communist involvement. Approximately 90% of Hmong refugees have resettled in the United States following the Indochina War.
  8. Most speak White or Green Hmong. White Hmong is considered more proper and is the basis for Hmong writing, but it is understood by Green Hmong speakers.
  9. They are traditionally animistic. Hmong religion centers around the Txix neeb or shaman. They believe that the body is home to a number of souls.
  10. Most have resettled in California and the Midwest. Approximately 40% of Hmong refugees are living in California, while another 45% reside in either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

These 10 facts about Laos refugees are a useful starting point for learning about refugees, but every individual has a unique story. Meaningful understanding of Laos refugee problems only comes through building relationships with them.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

It is often assumed that Asian Americans are one of the minority groups in the United States that is doing well economically. However, this statement too broadly categorizes all Asian subgroups. According to the official poverty rate from the U.S. Census in 2011, the Asian American poverty rate was actually 2.5% higher than that of Caucasians.

In fact, amongst poor Asian Americans, Southeast Asians face some of the highest poverty rates in the whole country. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles conducted a study on income sources, home foreclosures and housing burden. The study indicated that Southeast Asians in the United States have consistently relied on food stamps for many decades. Moreover, language barriers are still major roadblocks that prevent Southeast Asian Americans from entering new labor markets.

The poverty rate for Asian Americans is highest amongst Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese. Hmong Americans have a startlingly high poverty rate at 37.8%, followed closely by Cambodian Americans at 29.3% and Laotian Americans at 18.5%.

According to a study by UCLA scholars on Asian Americans in eight different states, 23% of Hmong Americans in Fresno, California relied on cash public assistance for income. This is comparably higher than the 10% of Asian Americans that also did so. It is also significantly higher than the 3% of Caucasians who used public cash assistance. Hmong Americans were also amongst the least likely to receive social security benefits or retirement income.

Additionally, Southeast Asians have especially high rates of depression and suffer higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder compared to the rest of the general Asian American population. These facts definitely counter the model minority stereotype that all Asian Americans belong to one monolithic group.

A study on social trends by Pew Research has found that with a population exceeding 18.2 million – or 6% of the U.S. population – Asian Americans have become one of the fastest growing minority groups in the U.S. Moreover, Asian Americans have become the nation’s best-educated and highest-paid racial or ethnic group. Yet these findings run the risk of perpetuating the stereotype of Asians as high achieving.

Additionally, such facts tend to hide the growing poverty amongst Southeast Asian Americans.

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans has stated that the media has narrowed in on “one-dimensional narratives of exceptionalism,” of successful Asian American families, usually eastern Asians such as Chinese or Japanese.

Due to popular perception of Asian Americans in general, poverty amongst sub-groups is not well known. Thus in order to truly fight poverty in the United States a more inclusive examination of poverty trends is vital.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: LA Times, Diverse Education, White House, National Alliance in Mental Illness
Photo: Asia Foundation