Wild Boars Granted Thai Citizenship

Stateless 'Mu Pa' are now Thai citizens

Stateless 'Mu Pa' are now Thai citizens

Thailand has granted citizenship to the coach and three members of a football team dramatically rescued from a flooded cave last month. The area is home to ethnic minorities with roots in neighbouring Myanmar.

Wild Boars' soccer coach Ekkapol Chanthawong (left), who is now in the monkhood, receives his identity card denoting Thai citizenship from district chief Somsak Kunkamin during the ceremony in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai, on Wednesday.

They also got Thai national identification cards on Wednesday.

"They have all the qualifications", said Somsak Kanakam, chief officer of Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai.

The Wild Boar team attracted global attention in late June when 12 young players and their coach ventured inside a cave in northern Thailand for an afternoon excursion but found the exit blocked by rising floodwater.

Citizenship requests for some twenty other people, majority children, were also approved, Somsak added.

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Mr Chantawong and three of the youngsters - who were all reportedly born in Thailand - were handed their citizenship cards in a ceremony on Wednesday.

"I'm happy", he said. He said that most people present at Wednesday's ceremony were aware of under- the-table payments that some officials had asked for in the past.

Thailand is home to around 480,000 stateless people, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The actual number could be as high as 3.5 million, according to the International Observatory on Statelessness.

Northern Thailand, whose porous borders have always been a boon to migrants, refugees and smugglers, is a melting pot of ethnic groups, including the Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Yao, Shan, Hmong and Karen.

Ekapol and 12 boys had gone to explore the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai province on June 23, when a rainy-season downpour flooded the cave system and trapped them underground. Some people flee for their lives to Thailand; others just seek a better life.

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