Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Stateless Persons from Thailand in Japan

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Stateless Persons from Thailand in Japan

Article excerpt

The difficulties faced by stateless persons from Thailand in Japan show only too clearly that the international legal framework for their protection is inadequate.

From around 1990 there have been people illegally entering Japan from Thailand. Though born and brought up in Thailand, they have no Thai nationality as their parents were 'Indochinese refugees' escaping the first Indochina War (1946-54).

As their parents were born in Vietnam or Laos - where nationality laws work on the principle of jus sanguinis - they should have the right to nationality there. But many of those who fled Vietnam and Laos in the confusion of wartime have now passed away in Thailand, having shared little information on their own birthplaces with their children. It is therefore tremendously difficult for the refugees' children to retrace their parents' footsteps or find relevant official documents. In addition, many official records were lost during the war and the post-war period, and naturally neither Vietnam nor Laos holds either official or unofficial records of the birth and existence of refugees' children born in Thailand.

In these circumstances it is almost impossible to expect that Vietnam or Laos should grant citizenship to them. They are de facto stateless persons whose situation is not dissimilar to that of de jure stateless persons. That is, for most of the Vietnamese and Lao refugees' children, it is often too difficult to prove their ties to Vietnam or Laos more than 50 years after their parents' flight.

In Thailand, which has not signed the 1951 Convention, 'Indochinese refugees' (most of whom are anyway not 'convention refugees') and their children have very restricted freedom of movement, have limited access to education, cannot get permanent jobs at fair wages without Thai nationality and lack access to many of their basic rights. This is why some decide to enter Japan illegally in order to find work. As the Thai government will not provide the documentation which would permit them to travel abroad, they bought the assistance of illegal brokers who provided passports with false Thai names. With no legal residence status, they live in continual fear of arrest by the Japanese police or the Immigration Bureau. They work illegally for low wages with no access to welfare or even health services. …

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