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Indigenous People in Thailand Need Citizenship

August 15, 2007

The Thai government should grant indigenous people in Thailand their basic human rights to education, medical care and citizenship, Kerd Phanakamnerd, a representative of the working group for indigenous rights, told a conference in Chiang Mai.

More than 200,000 indigenous people in Thailand are essentially stateless and have sought national verification from the government for many years, he said.

Amporn Meesuk, Thailand’s human rights commissioner and a keynote speaker on 8 August 2007, said the stateless status of many indigenous people denies them access to public programs, including education and medical services.

Amporn said that “in many cases, the human rights abusers are government officials.”

Ethnic people in northern Thailand have been blamed for deforestation and accused of drug trafficking, leading to forced relocation in many areas for “national security”  reasons, Amporn said.

Kerd and Amporn spoke at the First World’s Indigenous People Day Commemoration in Chiang Mai on 7 August and 8 August. There are about 1.2 million indigenous people from 13 ethnic groups in Thailand. Most live in mountainous regions in the north; others live along the coast and on islands in the south.

Dr. Narumon Hinshiranan Arunotai, a researcher at the Social Research Institute at Chulalongkorn University who works with so-called "sea gypsies" in Thailand, said that this indigenous group finds it difficult to live now because their traditional homes have become national parks or tourist destinations.

Previously, they traveled from Thailand to Burmese islands to Malaysia’s coastline, but many are now construction workers, she said.  

Currently, an estimated 10,000 sea gypsies live along Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, she said.

The conference was part of the UN's effort to raise awareness of the plight of indigenous people around the world.

Adapted from: "Indigenous People in Thailand Need Citizenship, say Advocates." 8 August 2007.


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