In Thailand up to three million hill-tribe people are denied basic services because they don’t have Identity cards.
That’s the findings of a study by the Thai NGO the bureau of Social development and UNESCO released this month.
The report says many of the hill tribes of the north - who have lived in Thailand for generations- are discriminated against when it comes to access to education, health.
They also lack the right to buy land, travel and vote.
To tackle the problem the government has created a Thai hill tribe identity card.
But as King Kong Janoi reports from the Kanchanaburi province, many are still slipping through the cracks.
Without a Thai identification card, 22 year-old Mi Samulk Chan has lived all her life in fear of the immigration police.
“I am afraid to go to hospital, they might catch me there. So when I feel sick we just stay at home and take medicines from a local shop.”
There are cases where Hospital staffs have reported patients to the immigration police.
Mi Samulk has lived in the Mon tribe in the hills between Thailand and Burma all her life. She is effectively stateless.
It’s a common story here in Sungklaburi a town on a lake, 370 kilometers north of Bangkok.
I am standing on a wooden bridge that crosses the water, on one side live the Mon tribe and the other ethnic Karen people.
Nai Kong Non from the Mon Tribe was born in Thailand. But says he was denied a scholarship because he did not have a Thai ID card.
“I have been studying in Thai school from kindergarten to middle school, I study hard, try to get good grades. We are poor family so I applied for a scholarship. I wish they allow us to have a scholarship to study in higher level but the answers is No because being a Mon student, we no rights, no opportunities like the Thai people.”
Due to pressure from the Thai King, authorities launch a Thai hill tribe identity card program in 2005.
People who could prove they were born in Thailand were given ID cards.
Now at the age of 20 Nai Kong Non proudly carries a Thai hill tribe ID card.
“It is totally different from the past. Before I was Mon and not Thai and there was nothing I could do about it. I have no rights to do anything, no right to education, no right to vote but when I came a Thai citizen, my life turned upside down.”
He is very grateful that now he can continue his education.
“Thanks so much to Thailand, thanks to the king and government and all Thai people and authorities who give us a big change and a big opportunities to become a Thai citizen and have power as Thai people. I have a dream to study in university now my dream can come true by becaming a Thai citizen.”
But the program failed to register everyone and a new ID drive began this month.
At the local police station in Sungklaburi hill tribe people are queuing up to have their ID cards processed.
But Naw Say Mar has been turned away because she doesn’t have a birth certificate.
“I was born in Thailand but I don’t have birth’s certificate because I was born at home not in a hospital. You must have that to be recognized as a Thai citizenship. It is really hard for us but I don’t know why! It seem the process of working it out is very complicated.”
She says she will be forced to stop school in grade nine and without an ID card it will be very hard for her to get into University.
Community leader Nai Bod complains that the ID process is irregular.
“A man near my home, has live for more than 20 years in Sangklaburi northwest Thailand, but he didn’t get a ID card. Many people are not educated about how to fill out the forms, so they miss things and write the wrong thing and so they don’t get the card.”
However, the Thai Interior Ministry officials say it is difficult to tell the difference between members of hill tribes and “newcomers” such as refugees from Burma.
Surapong Kongchantuk is a ethnic minority researcher based in Bangkok.
He argues there is wider problem of racism in Thailand that needs to be addressed.
“Among Thai society there is a belief that if you are not pure Thai then you have no right to use the resources in Thailand. Even you born on Thai soil, if you are not Thai race the society does not accept you.”