Posts Tagged ‘legal status’

In the hills of northern Thailand live minority tribal communities that are also spread across neighboring Laos, Myanmar and China. The Thai government recognizes nine (Akha, Hmong, Karen, Khamu, Lahu, Lisu, Lua, Malabree and Mien), but there are more as well. They are some of the poorest people in Thailand, but beyond that, they live without something most Americans couldn’t imagine living without any more than they could imagine living without a car, fast food, or cell phones: basic citizenship rights.

These tribespeople have been living in Thailand for generations (so they’re not refugees; they are entitled by birth to be Thai citizens), but being at the geographic and economic periphery of the country, they’ve largely been left to fend for themselves. Chiefly farmers in former times, they scrape out a living by guiding treks, selling crafts and the like, but what happens when the tourists don’t come?

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The problem is, when you’re only given short bootstraps, you can only pull yourself up so far—and when the bootstrap breaks, what then? The tribespeople generally don’t have their citizenship documents, so they only have access to elementary education and limited health care. They’re also prohibited from traveling beyond their small district, so finding work can be difficult to impossible out on the margins of Thai society. Thus out of desperation they fall prey to traffickers, who use men for construction work, and women for prostitution.

This is where IJM Chiang Mai stepped in. Previously IJM had been focusing efforts on rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims (as they do in the Manila office, where I help), but they concluded that they could have a much greater impact addressing the supply side of the problem: all these people without proper documents (and hence opportunities). Each year since shifting focus to documentation, the Chiang Mai office has helped over 800 tribespeople take this crucial step into full-fledged citizenship and away from the dangers of trafficking. For an encouraging summary of one family’s story, see this article on IJM UK’s web site.

What I found pleasantly surprising and encouraging (and I hope those of you who might consider volunteering with IJM will too) is that unlike with most of IJM’s other offices, the work in Chiang Mai doesn’t necessarily require a legal or social work background–and also, as this post from a current intern observes, simply having a college degree and English proficiency can serve an important function in this office’s work. So if you have a sense of adventure, enjoy beautiful tropical places, and get pumped about eating real Thai food, IJM Chiang Mai might be able to use your help! Check out IJM’s fellowships and internships here.

— Nate

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