Remember the little stateless boy born to a family of Myanmar migrant workers in Chiang Mai who won Thai people’s hearts with his superb paper plane skills back in 2009? Mong Thongdee became Thailand’s champion at the age of 12 before going on to capture 3rd place at a paper plane contest in Chiba prefecture in Japan the same year.
But he had a dream beyond the trophies – Thai citizenship.
Mong was showered with praise and promises upon his triumphant return. Politicians and bureaucrats lined up to assure him that it was just a matter of time before he would get what he wanted.
It was the closest that Mong believed he got to realizing his dream. But as the governments came and went, Mong was quickly forgotten. Nine years on, Mong is now an adult and yet he is still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
In an interview with the Thai PBS recently, Mong recalled the attention and publicity he got upon his return from Japan in 2009 and how many of the “phuyai” came forth to promise him Thai citizenship. Mong admitted that he was complacent and didn’t try to pursue the case himself, believing that all those “phuyai” would take care of it.
Under Thai law, people classified as stateless – mostly illegal immigrants and members of the various ethnic groups and their offspring – are entitled to Thai citizenship if they can prove they have done good deeds for Thai society. Mong is just one of tens of thousands of people who were born in Thailand and classified as stateless. Without Thai citizenship they cannot travel freely, are not entitled to health care services from the state, and are often denied education opportunities.
Disillusioned, Mong, with the encouragement of his teachers, decided to move ahead on his own to get what he believes he deserves. Mong said he sought letters of certification to prove his contributions to the country from Thai PBS, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Mong said he has been helping train forest rangers how to operate drones.
Thai PBS has issued a letter to certify that Mong has assisted with its training course in drone photography and in using drones to take aerial pictures for its drone competition program. He is still waiting for certifications from the other two state agencies.
The stateless young man is currently training students of Ban Huay Sai school in Muang District of Chiang Mai how to fold paper planes and how to fly them properly in preparation for the national paper plane competition at Impact Muang Thong Thani on Aug. 28.
The interest in Mong has been revived by the recent “Wild Boars” soccer team rescue operation. Three of the young footballers and their coach faced the same plight as Mong but were granted Thai citizenship last week.
Mong congratulated the Wild Boars footballers and noted that his case was more complicated. Mong was born in Thailand to parents who are migrant workers from Myanmar while the Wild Boars boys and their coach were children of ethnic hill tribe people living in Thailand.
As Mong’s hope was rekindled, good news finally came last week when he was informed by the Local Administration Department that he was to receive his Thai citizenship soon. He was told that his case was now in the hands of the Interior Ministry, which is awaiting a reference letter from the Ministry of Science and Technology confirming his contribution that has brought fame to the country.
After nine years of empty promises, Mong can only hope that this is not going to be another disappointment.