In the lead-up to last year’s election I clipped the following report from the Bangkok Post (21 December 2007):

Hill tribesmen to be given Thai citizenship

Deputy Prime Minister Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said the government will give citizenship to 353,000 people who have lived in Thailand for more than 10 years. These people are mostly hill tribesmen living in the North, he said, adding that the interim government will refer the matter to a new government that will be elected after Sunday’s election. These people will be given Thai citizenship while their newborns will be of Thai nationality. This is to solve national security problems along the border, he added.

I lost track of the story as I turned my attention to the election and would be interested to hear if any New Mandala readers can provide any further information. What is the status of this decision given that it appears to have been made very late in the term of the former government? If the decision stands, it would be a very significant initiative. Very roughly, there are about one million “hill tribe” residents in northern Thailand. A good percentage of them already have citizenship (more than 50 percent?) so provision of citizenship to an additional 353,000 would go a long way towards addressing one of Thailand long-standing social inequities.

Of course there are considerable complexities in managing citizenship given Thailand’s highly porous northern borders. Sometimes the rhetoric of NGO activists seems to suggest that anyone who crosses into Thai territory should be eligible for citizenship. Clearly this not a position that any government could tolerate. But there are many cases where the arguments presented by NGOs and other advocates are perfectly legitimate. There are many longstanding residents in the north who have been denied citizenship without any good justification. Sonthi’s belated pre-election announcement might be an important step in the right direction.