The State of Statelessness in Thailand

Of the global population, an estimated 4.2 million are stateless people. Within this group, children make up a third. The issue of statelessness is all the more pervasive in Thailand, with the country having the fourth largest population of stateless people amounting to over half a million in 2020

What is Statelessness?

According to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (, a stateless person is an individual without a nationality. Although there are measures to ensure people’s right to obtain nationalities, such as Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, statelessness is still evidently a major global issue. 

Statelessness in Thailand

Statelessness is an issue prevalent along Thailand’s borders, particularly in the north which is home to numerous ethnic groups such as the Karen and Hmong. Some stateless persons are refugees who fled Burma to escape the armed conflict between the 1980s to 1990s

Despite how extensive statelessness is in Thailand, there are limited legal protections available to those who need them. People without nationalities are divided into two categories in Thailand: nationalityless and stateless persons. Nationalityless persons are provided with a “special identification document (ID)” and are legally allowed to stay in the country. They are also given limited access to healthcare. However, they face restrictions on traveling as they need to ask officials for permission to do so. On the contrary, stateless persons are those who were denied citizenship by the Thai government and, as such, are not legally permitted to reside in Thailand. Moreover, they are not documented by government officials, making them vulnerable to legal repercussions and unable to make use of public goods such as free healthcare. Regardless, the government has taken steps to enhance protections for stateless people by signing onto the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) #IBelong campaign which aims to eliminate statelessness by 2024

Impacts of Being Stateless

Stateless people are faced with numerous challenges, particularly in society. For instance, they are stigmatized and discriminated against. Employers often underpay stateless individuals’ exploitative wages that are below the minimum rate. In fear of being caught by the police, however, stateless persons do not speak up. Consequently, they also face a lack of safety and security. 

Children are also victims of statelessness. Even though stateless children can attend public schools, they are unable to pursue higher education since these institutions require proof of citizenship. This ultimately means that their educational and career prospects are limited.

In spite of the efforts to improve legal provisions for stateless people, Thailand’s current situation regarding statelessness continues to remain a challenge. For many, the process of obtaining citizenship takes years, further limiting the capabilities of stateless people. More resources and work should be dedicated to streamlining the process and ensuring that stateless individuals can access healthcare, education, and other public services to improve their quality of life. More awareness should also be raised regarding their circumstances in order to change societal attitudes and reduce the stigma and discrimination that they face.

– Isabelle Amurao


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