Summer 2010 ADRA Works
“We are always scared,” says Lautei Myua, a husband and father of three children. “We are like leaves blowing in the jungle, always blowing from place to place. We have been living in this village for six years,” continues Lautei. “We were living in Mae Hong, but the soldiers made us leave. This is the way it is when you are not a citizen. There is nowhere to call your own. They can come at any moment and make you leave. And you don’t know where you will go.”
A stateless person is anyone who is not considered a national by any country. The most prevalent root cause of statelessness is when a country dissolves and separates into different countries. In addition, many countries have created laws that have stripped ethnic minorities of their rights. These people often live in a very precarious situation on the margins of society, frequently lack identity documentation, and often are subject to discrimination.
While the Myua family grows corn and a few vegetables, their main income comes from the small amount their two older children send each year. Since the parents do not have legal rights, none of their children do either, even though each of them was born in Thailand.
“My older son and daughter are in the city,” shares Buddha Myua. “They have to hide. They have to live at the factory where they work illegally. And every day, they work and work and work. That is their whole life. If they were to leave, they would probably be arrested and in great, deep trouble. We depend on the money they send us to live on. Each year, they send us 30,000 baht [just over $900, or about $2 a day].”
“However, even though they send us money each year, we do not go to the clinic or hospital,” Buddha explains. “If we go to the hospital, no matter what the problem, we are charged a starting fee of 30 baht [90 cents]. My mother lives with us and is completely deaf; she has never seen a doctor.”
“Do you hear my husband’s cough?” Buddha asks. “He has had it for years, and he has less energy each year. However, we can’t get medicine. We are Akha. We do not speak Thai. We do not know how to read or write. We live like we do not belong here, yet our grandmother and their grandmothers were born in these mountains. We are desperate. Unless someone helps us, there is no end to this existence.”
ADRA is helping the stateless citizens of this village and 15 others in northern Thailand. Creating an integrated development plan, ADRA is ensuring sufficient clean water systems and sanitation facilities in each village, attaining the most basic human right - citizenship - for individuals currently without, and then improving the livelihoods of each individual, thus increasing self-sufficiency.
“If I had citizenship, my whole world would change!” Buddha suddenly becomes very animated. “The first thing I would do would be to register to receive government benefits when I am old. I am 45 years old, but before I know it, I will be 60, and if you are 60 and a citizen, the government gives you 500 baht [$15] each month! Can you imagine?”
“But more importantly,” Buddha continues, “if I had citizenship, that would mean my children would have it too. And for them, that would mean freedom! Freedom to have a good job. To travel without constant fear of being caught.”
“You know, my children could see the world,” marvels Buddha. “Imagine, I could see Chiang Mai before I die [approximately 124 miles from her village]. I’ve always dreamed of seeing that city.”