Thailand (MNN/Compassion) — In 2011, Thailand was home to more than 500,000 illegal immigrants and refugees. These “stateless persons” include many legal citizens missing the proper documents. However, Compassion International is trying to change this.
Compassion Thailand Director, Sanya, states, “Children living on the border lack many opportunities. Without citizenship, no one knows if they are Thai or Burmese.”
In the Chaing Rai Province, 17-year-old Sombat is one of thousands of youth in our programs in Thailand that lacked legal citizenship. Knowing the challenges and limited opportunities these children and their families have because of lack of legal identity, Compassion Thailand set out to do something about it.
From the country office, to the field staff, to the implementing church partners, everyone got on board to help provide a brighter future for these children.
“Sombat comes from a very difficult background. His mom (Aya) had to raise him and his siblings alone. Are they in poverty? Yes, they’re in poverty,” says Worawut, the director of the Child Development Center that Sombat attends.
Sombat shares, “Not having an identity is a very discouraging thing. Stateless people pay a lot to go to the hospital and they receive no protection from police.”
As a single mother of four, Aya struggles to make ends meet by working in the rice fields to provide for her family. Their lack of citizenship was one of her many burdens. “Without citizenship, I can’t travel anywhere. I can’t do anything. My heart was heavy. What if he couldn’t do things other children could. Or find work like others. I was very worried.”
Along the borders of Thailand, a birth certificate is paramount in the quest for citizenship. Families living in poverty often forget or cannot afford these documents when a child is born.
But Sombat is part of Compassion’s child sponsorship development program at his local church and has people walking alongside him and his family – helping him grow and develop into the young man he is today.
Worawut shares further, “When Sombat was younger he was very quiet. He didn’t talk much, and he liked being by himself. But he has grown a lot since then. Since coming to the project, he has created a group of friends to play with. Sombat got into sports and many other activities that we encouraged at the church. As he grew up in the church, he went from attending to helping others. He now helps the church in many ways. I believe he can go very far.”
Without a birth certificate, Sombat was seen as a stateless resident of Thailand.
“I didn’t think I would ever get the identity card. I didn’t have any of the documents that I needed. In those moments I felt very hopeless,” says Sombat.
But because Compassion Thailand received funding for a Complementary Intervention program to help stateless children like Sombat, they now have the resources available to educate caregivers about their rights and the importance of gaining a legal identity, as well as the capacity to help them through the process of acquiring legal status.
“Compassion helped by advocating for Sombat and taking him where he needed to go,” Worawut says. But they also helped to give Sombat the ultimate citizenship through Christ: his Christian faith.
“For Christian children in the program, we help them to understand where their true identity lies. It lies in Christ. If we help them understand this then they can live their life with purpose,” Director Sanya states.
When Sombat received his citizenship, it was like receiving a new identity. But this new identity meant more open doors for Sombat. Doors to higher education and medical care. Doors for government protection and safety from child trafficking. Doors for opportunity to become the man God created him to be.
Plus, Sombat’s citizenship will extend to all of his future family members and affect generations of children to come.
Still, there are hundreds more children in Thailand just like Sombat who need a citizenship in both God and their country, and you can help!
First, please pray for the “stateless children” and their families. Pray for God to provide for their needs, help them gain citizenship, and change their hearts to Him. Pray that the Gospel will do its work and that the Thai people will have a dual citizenship in Christ.
Secondly, you can sponsor a child like Sombat and help provide the best life possible and the chance to meet Christ.
“The day we went, I was very happy. We drove a long way to get there, and I stood in line a long time.” Sombat smiles as he pulls out his new identity card and shows it off. “This is my identity card. It proves that I am Thai.” His eyes filling with tears, he says, “To everyone who helped me, thank you.”