Study Tour to Thailand
Sep. 7th – 13th Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
Stateless Network Youth & Waseda Univ. Chen Seminar
Chae won “Christine” Lee
Personally, the primary goal of the study tour was to meet and conduct the interview with stateless and nationalityless people of Thailand, and the purpose was well achieved. Also, by listening to lectures and conducting interviews, I was able to learn more about refugees and Mountain People of Thailand and how they become stateless and how they acquire Thai nationality. Overall, the tour was fruitful and meaningful.
Homestay at Mae Kampong (Sep. 8th-9th)
Our team have stayed in a local household at village Mae Kampong for a night. We hung out with children in the village and were invited to dinner party at night. In the morning of the second day, we went to the temple and offered food and flowers to monks and participated in morning praying ritual. Villagers in Mae Kampong were very friendly and were welcoming to tourists and homestay program participants. The most interesting part of the village was that it was self-sustainable village with its own banking system. Villagers take turn in homestay program and the other economic activity and divide the profit evenly. Certain percentage of benefit will go into the village bank and would be used for the management and welfare system of the village.
Interviewing Ayu Teacher and Mong’s Family (Sep. 10th)
Professor Chen, Mr. Suzuki and I have been to Payap University to meet Ayu teacher. Mrs. Ayu is a representative figure of stateless people in Thailand. As a musician and teacher, she has contributed to Thai society and music industry. However, since her parents were Karen who escaped from the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar government, she has never had a nationality.
She had various struggles throughout her life, including traveling out of Chiang Mai Province and not being able to sign documents for her daughter as a legal guardian. Experts say that Mrs. Ayu is one of the most difficult complicated cases of statelessness. Many experts and scholars are making their efforts to help her acquire Thai nationality. Mrs. Ayu said that although Thai nationality does not mean that much to her, it would make her life much easier if she gets to have one.
After that, we made our way to Mong’s home. Mong is well known in Japan as an ‘paper airplane boy.’ When he was 10 years old, he became a paper airplane champion in Thailand and was requested to come to Japan to attend the world competition. Sadly, it was impossible for him to go abroad because he was a stateless. His parents were immigrant workers from Myanmar and Mong has never been officially registered. However, Thai government has made an exceptional decision to let Mong go to Japan. Through this, he acknowledged people around the world about the statelessness issue.
What amazed me the most was the fact that Mong never gave up on his dream and is still pursuing it up until these days. He is now working as a drone driver, helping the special shooting team. Using his drone, he takes pictures and videos from the sky. He is sending certain amount of money to his family every month, but the parents are saving up everything, without spending a penny. “We can’t spend it. We are going to give him back when he gets older,” Mong’s parents said. The boy who was admiring the sky is living in his dream.
Mirror Foundation, Chiang Rai (Sep. 11th-12th)
Mirror Foundation is located in rural area in Chiang Rai. It is currently supporting Mountain People and local children’s education. Head staff Mrs. Sakura gave us lecture about the Mountain People and stateless people of Chiang Rai area. Mirror Foundation is helping Mountain People and stateless refugees to acquire Thai nationality by funding them and providing legal counseling.
Next morning, we went to the village to meet boy name Apa. Apa is ethnically “Aka,” but stateless. He has been discriminated in various ways throughout his life, but the biggest incident that happened to him was a car accident few years ago. Although he was a victim, legal system did not provide him with any protection and he had to pay unbelievably high medical fees since he did not have a Thai nationality. He is still suffering of aftereffects from the accident. Yet, he was very strong-minded and believed that the accident was meant to be—that it was all God’s plan to make him grow as a person. I could see that religion has become a large part of his identity and life.
Mirror Foundation is currently supporting him to acquire Thai citizenship. Apa said that he want Thai nationality so that he could be more mobile and work in the other countries. I was touched by how devoted staffs and volunteer workers were at Mirror Foundation, and also by how Apa has overcome his personal crisis.
Symposium at Thammasat University (Sep. 13th)
The symposium “the situation, law as and policies frameworks to deal with the challenges that stateless and nationalityless persons, migrants and aliens face in the current decade: a comparative study of Thailand and Japan” was held in Thammasat University. Many experts in the field and stateless themselves have participated to the symposium. Thai scholars gave presentations regarding the current stateless and nationalityless issues of Thailand. Professor Chen gave a presentation regarding current situation of Japan, including specific case studies. I gave a presentation as a member of Stateless Network Youth, which was mainly about Stateless Network Youth’s activities and my personal experiences and thoughts regarding the issue.