Tuesday 22 January 2019

Stateless survivors may have Thai citizenship fast-tracked

One of the 12 boys is carried out on a stretcher during the rescue operation in the Tham Luang cave. Photo: Royal Thai Navy/AFP
One of the 12 boys is carried out on a stretcher during the rescue operation in the Tham Luang cave. Photo: Royal Thai Navy/AFP
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The coach and three of the 12 boys rescued from a flooded cave last week are officially stateless - but could be granted fast-track Thai citizenship in the wake of their 18-day ordeal.

Authorities in Bangkok confirmed Ekaphol Chantawong and three of the trapped boys were "not Thai citizens", but officials have promised to provide legal assistance and say that, if there are no complications, all will have Thai nationality within six months.

As a member of the Tai Lue minority, rights groups say Coach Ake would otherwise have faced a wait of up to 10 years to achieve citizenship, in a process that involves proving his Thai lineage and which is seen as so laborious that many applicants simply give up.

The Tai Lue are just one of a number of ethnic groups who for generations have moved across regions and borders in the remote hills between China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The boys are expected to be released from hospital on Thursday - too late to attend the World Cup Final they had been invited to in the wake of their rescue. However, many other soccer-related invitations have been issued to the Wild Boars team by clubs from around the world.

In video messages of the boys shown yesterday, one of the 14-year-olds, Ekarat Wongsukchan, whose nickname is Biw, playfully raised both arms in a boxer's victory stance as laughter was heard in the background. "Hello, my name is Biw, I am fine. I want to say thanks to everyone that worried," he said.

All 13 offered thanks for the support they've been given.

Asked what they were looking forward to eating, their wish-list included slow-cooked pork leg with steamed rice, fried crispy pork, roasted red pork, sushi, steak and KFC.

Adul Samon (the boy speaking English in the video taken when the team was first found) is a stateless 14-year-old sent to Thailand for schooling by his ethnic minority parents across the border in Myanmar. In yeterday's video he spoke in Thai and then in English: "Hello, I am Adul. Now I am very fine. I am very thank you so heavy, thank you so much."

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