Boys rescued from cave, once stateless, get Thai citizenship

Members of Wild Boars football team pray during a ceremony marking the completion of their serving as novice Buddhist monks

Ekapol Chanthawong, second from right, on a trip with the Wild Boars to a meditation trip on July 10, 2017 in Chiang Rai.

The story of the "Wild Boars" club has dominated headlines since the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach went exploring in Tham Luang cave on June 23 and were trapped deep inside by rising floodwaters, setting off an global search dubbed "Mission Impossible". Chiang Rai, the region where the group was trapped in the cave, is near the country's border with Laos and Myanmar.

They were found by two British divers nine days later, but it took another six days to rescue the first team members.

A dramatic, global rescue effort ended on July 10 when they were all brought out safely after an ordeal lasting more than two weeks.

During the global rescue mission, it was reported that the four were among the over 4.8 lakh stateless people in Thailand, a lot of them living in remote border areas.

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The three boys and their coach were among 13 boys who were saved in a dramatic rescue by Thai navy seals and global diving experts that ended on July 10 and received huge media attention worldwide.

The boys given citizenship on Wednesday in their home district of Mae Sai had all applied for it before the cave incident, and all were fully qualified for the change in status, said district chief Somsak Kanakam.

Venus Srisuk, director of Bureau Registration Administration said that Mongkol Boonpium and Pornchai Khamluang became Thai citizens because their migrant parents have lived in Thailand more than 15 years. The government also approved citizenship requests of around 20 other people, he said. Some belong to "hill tribes" living in remote areas with limited access to information about nationality procedures, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

"By providing these boys and their coach with citizenship, Thailand has given them the chance to both dream of a brighter future and to reach their full potential", Carol Batchelor, UNHCR's Special Advisor on Statelessness, said in a statement.

There are 488,105 stateless people registered in Thailand, according to government statistics.

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