The importance of an ID card
We got a letter from a stateless woman in Thailand. We are calling her Mae, since her identity needs to be protected. Please read her story about how she got assistance fron the Diakonia partner Social Life Project and how an ID card changed her life to the better.
When I was a little girl, I usually felt smaller than the others. We were all ethnic Karen, we spoke the same language and wore the same traditional costume. But most of my classmates were Thai citizens and I was not. I was not a citizen of any country, a so-called ‘stateless person’.
More than half of the people in my village were stateless, but in those days not many stateless children went to school. The Thai Ministry of Education had not yet affirmed our rights so most schools did not accept us. And in the schools that did, we had to pay fees. Luckily, my mother believed in the benefit of education and made sure I was in school for as long as she could support me.
Born in Thailand but considered an illegal immigrant
In the early 80s, my parents fled from a conflict zone in Burma to Thailand. I was born in 1985 and according to the old citizenship law, I was an illegal immigrant, even though I was born in Thailand.
Without the white Thai citizen card, I couldn’t travel outside the district in which I was living, get a certificate when I finished school, continue to higher education or apply for a good job. To legally get a job, I would have to pay for a work permit like migrant workers do. Gradually, some of my stateless classmates got Thai citizenship, which made me jealous.
My mother said I couldn’t get a citizenship card because of the law and that we were too poor. Despite this, I began hoping that one day I would get a better legal status.
New citizenship law
One day in 2009, the head of my village came to inform me that there was a new citizenship law, which enabled for people born in Thailand to apply for citizenship. I was very excited! I went to the district office to apply and felt happy when I came home.
But months passed and I heard nothing. Some people who applied at the same time as me got their ID cards, but my mother said that it was because they had paid someone to help and that our family did not have much money. I was angry but thought that maybe it was not meant for me to become a Thai citizen after all.
Another year passed. In 2010 I got married and moved to my husband’s house. Most Thai citizen men avoid marrying stateless women, but my husband said he didn’t care. After trying to get help with my application from a person who proved to be very unreliable, my husband attended some training conducted by an organization called the Social Life Project (SLP). He came home and told me excitedly that it was true that the citizenship law now should recognise me as a Thai citizen, and that he knew how to apply.
The ID card made life much easier
It was now two years since I left my application at the district office, and when the SLP field worker helped us find my papers at the district office it turned out that my application had been approved a long time ago! I finally got my ID card. It made life so much easier for me, when I delivered my second child shortly afterwards I was treated with politeness and was not told to pay 20 000 baht as they did when my first child was born.
I felt so sorry for the stateless people in the hospital. They had not received Thai citizenship because they could not afford to pay, and many of them borrow money to a high interest which is very difficult to pay back. I hope that SLP will continue to provide information and process cases of other villagers and that they put pressure on the government to work more efficiently, be more accessible and deal with corruption. Although I am now a Thai citizen, I hope that the SLP will do their best to help the 4000 other stateless people in my district, because I know how hard it is to be a stateless person.
Kind regards, Mae
The organization Social Life Project is a partner of Diakonia.