The Irrawaddy

107-Year-Old Karen Spiritual Leader Granted Thai Citizenship

Karen spiritual leader Ko-ee Meeme registers for a Thai identity card after recently being granted Thai citizenship.

Ko-ee Meeme, a 107-year-old spiritual leader of the ethnic Karen, registered for a Thai identity card in Kaeng Krachang District on Tuesday after he was granted Thai citizenship.

On hand to witness the registration process were Tuenjai Deetes, a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, and children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Ko-ee Meeme, affectionately known as Grandfather Ko-ee.

Tuenjai told the media that the old man was born on Thai soil at the border between Phetchaburi and Ratchaburi provinces, which is an ancestral home of members of Myanmar’s Karen ethnic group, and for that reason he was entitled to Thai citizenship.

She noted that the case of Grandfather Ko-ee represented a good example of cooperation between several relevant agencies in resolving issues of nationality, especially for many elderly members of ethnic minorities living in Thailand who are still regarded as stateless.

The human rights commissioner said that there are many stateless people who have been living in Thailand for several decades but have not been granted Thai citizenship because they lack necessary official documents, such as birth certificates, which would prove that they were born in the country.

Because of their status as stateless persons, she said, they are not entitled to state welfare, cannot travel freely and are often deprived of job opportunities.