Did you know…
…that there are people in this world who do not have citizenship in any country?
For most of us, citizenship is never a question. It is something we are entitled to by birth, and from birth, we enjoy all the benefits the state provides: access to health care, education, the right to hold a legal job, licenses to drive, protection under state law, access to travel, and recognition in marriage. However, for approximately 10 million people worldwide, none of these rights are guaranteed in any country, by any government.
Statelessness in Thailand
In Thailand, there are over 430,000 registered stateless people. They are stateless because their families fled persecution in Myanmar and they were never recognized by the Thai government. Or they live in areas where national borders changed, leaving their nationality in question. Or they are hill tribe minorities with limited access to information about how to apply for citizenship, and traditionally have been nomadic groups who lived without legal documentation.
Without an education leading to a recognized degree, without access to legal work, without even the ability to drive to work legally, stateless people are often forced to live in the shadows. Because of their status, they often have limited social capital and limited networks to which they can turn for help. In Thailand statelessness often means restricted travel rights, even outside the local province. The only jobs they can get tend to be dangerous and low paying, subject to intense racism and discrimination, and if anything were to go wrong, they would be without help.
Stateless people become the perfect prey for traffickers: desperate for work, and terrified of getting caught by the authorities for fear of deportation or being sent to refugee camps, they are ripe for exploitation.
The Legal Paradox
Therefore, curbing trafficking requires reducing the incentive to stateless people to hide, and it means offering viable, legal alternatives for them to find work. In this sense, national laws that are strict on immigrants and refugees for the purpose of national security may work at cross purposes with national security because it feeds the problem of human trafficking. Laws that offer legal alternatives may prove to not only help immigrants, refugees and the stateless people, they may prove to be another line of defense against trafficking in humans.
To learn more about the stateless people with whom we work at The Freedom Story, check out the story of Surachat and Surachai.
Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The Freedom Story (formerly The SOLD Project). After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand in 2010 to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness. She currently writes from Berlin.