Manchester United invite Thai cave-rescue boys to England. But will they be able to go?
Wild Boars coach and three players are ineligible for passports due to their ethnicity, putting the spotlight on the problem of statelessness in their country
Manchester United has invited the 12 boys from the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach who survived for 10 days without food in a cave in northern Thailand to visit them at Old Trafford football stadium in Manchester, Channel News Asia reported.
The team had already received an invitation from FIFA chief Gianni Infantino to attend the World Cup final in Moscow on July 15 but were unable to do so because the boys and their coach were still recuperating in a hospital in northern Thailand.
A problem will arise if they decide to travel to Manchester: the coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, and three of the boys are stateless and need special permission to travel even outside their home province Chiang Rai. They come from ethnic minorities in neighboring Myanmar who sought refuge in Thailand several years ago. Under Thai law, stateless persons can obtain some basic rights such as education and healthcare, but they are not citizens and not eligible to obtain Thai passports.
The search for the boys and the daring operation to rescue them caught the attention of wide audiences across the globe and the drama has now inadvertently come to focus on the plight of nearly half a million people in Thailand who are stateless. Most of them belong to hill tribes and other ethnic minorities in the north.
The Thai authorities have promised to look into the issue and fast-track applications for those who were trapped in the cave. But that leaves all the others who have to prove some kind of Thai lineage before becoming citizens, a procedure that takes years and is so laborious that many members of minority groups simply give up.