Wants all his pupils to have the same rights
Many of the small village school students in Baan Pho Sor in northern Thailand come from ethnic minority villages in the hills and lack legal status. The head master Korkiat Sonsa-ad is dedicating all his spare time and efforts to help the stateless pupils. So far he has managed to help around thirty of his students to get a Thai citizenship.
- I feel so much empathy for them, since I see how limited possibilities they have in life. Stateless persons are not allowed to travel within Thailand, or get a good job. I can’t understand why they should be restricted, as they can do so many good things for the country, he says.
The same status as illegal migrants
Korkiat Sonsa-ad has been working in the school in Baan Pho Sor for 16 years. The school is attended by around 300 students and about 140 of them are stateless, many of them belonging to the ethnic minority Karen.
The head master explains that the students and their families have been living in Thailand for generations, which makes them as Thai as anyone else. But they don’t get the same legal status.
- Even though they are born in Thailand, the have the same status as illegal migrant workers. It’s not fair, they are all good Thais, he says.
Helps to gather all the documents
Korkiat Sonsa-ad helps the students and their parents gather all the documents required and accompany them to town in order to apply for the citizenship at the district office. The head master has often argued that stateless students are Thai, but they haven’t been registered since the parents lack education and knowledge combined with living in the deep forest out of access to the government district officer. During the dry season, the journey from the school to the district office takes about two hours in a car. But in the rainy season it’s sometimes not even possible to go by car on the muddy and winding roads.
Has been accused of corruption
The head master is quite known at the district office by now, but not everyone is giving him appreciation for his work. Once when walking the long way to the district office together with children, he was stopped by the authorities accusing him of trafficking and smuggling the children. At the district office he has met allegations of taking bribes from the students’ families.
- It has been very frustrating and upsetting. I am doing this for Thailand. I’ve seen how the students are doing good things and contributing to the society where they live.
Is working closely with an organization
In later years Korkiat Sonsa-ad has developed a close cooperation with Diakonia’s partner organization Development Center for Children and Community Network, DCCN. Together with the organization he’s visiting the student’s families, meeting community leaders to talk about the children’s rights and coordinates with the district registration office.
- The process of obtaining legal status is often very slow. I am so grateful for the cooperation with DCCN since we now are able to help many more.
Story told to: Thitirat Borerakwana, Programme Officer at Diakonia in Thailand.