"You cannot even imagine what life is like without an ID card in Thailand."– Noi, a Hill Tribe member in Northern Thailand who fought for her citizenship for a decade before she met IJM

Worldwide, an estimated 12 million people are stateless—people who hold no citizenship of any kind. No citizenship means no country claims you. No justice system protects you. There are no guarantees your children will get to go to school or you will be able to find a job that pays a fair wage.

Mali’s* Story

It should have taken 3 to 6 months to prove that 9-year-old Mali is a citizen of Thailand;
instead, it took 2 and a half years of relentless advocacy by IJM.

Read her full story.
(photo: Compassion International)

“I feel like I have my dignity back. Now I don’t need to worry about going anywhere, when I used to be scared about police arrests. I don’t need to worry if my children can go to school. I know that they now have more opportunities in their lives for school and work in the future.”

– Hill tribe member Boon Si after IJM helped her secure her citizenship documentation

  • There are about 12 million stateless people worldwide1 – of whom an estimated 20% live in Thailand2
  • About a dozen hill tribes (ethnic minority groups) live in Thailand’s northern and western highlands alone—an estimated 600,000 to 1 million people.3
  • Lack of citizenship is the major risk factor for hill tribe women and girls in Thailand for being trafficked or otherwise exploited.4

In the mountainous regions spanning several Asian countries, including Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and China, ethnic minority groups known as hill tribes have lived in the same villages for generations. Country borders have changed and laws have developed accordingly, but many hill tribes have slipped through the cracks.

For thousands of hill tribe members, Thailand is the country of their birth, and Thai citizenship is their legal right. However, complex regulations, lack of access to resources, prejudice and government apathy block them from getting required identification documents and registration status to prove their citizenship. Without this documentation, they are not recognized as citizens of their own country. They are stateless.

Life without Citizenship Documentation

Without the citizenship documentation that is their legal right, Thai hill tribe members may be denied care at a hospital, prohibited from owning land, and arrested for traveling outside their home district. They are not guaranteed the right to attend school or to a fair wage for their labor. Without the protection of a justice system, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence, like sexual abuse and human trafficking.

IJM responds to citizenship rights abuse in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We have helped thousands of eligible hill tribe members get citizenship documentation—a right that guarantees them freedom to move about their country without fear of arrest, a right to work and educate their children, and rights to full protection of the law. IJM assists hill tribe people with the complex application process and relentlessly advocates on their behalf to move their cases through overburdened government offices that can grant citizenship.

1U.N. H.C.R. “Stateless People”

2IRIN. “In Brief: 12 million people still stateless”

3Physicians for Human Rights. "No Status: Migration, Trafficking & Exploitation of Women in Thailand"

4"Searching for Identity," Yindee Lertharoenchok; Step by Step, UN Interagency Project Newsletter: Fourth Quarter, 2001, Issue 5.

* = pseudonym