News / USA

Summer Trip Sparks US Man's Quest to Save Thailand's Stateless People

Srinuan Saokhamnuan (left) poses with her Thai citizenship I.D. card, with Phubet Ekrmanaskarn (center) and Suebsak Eaimvijarn (right). (Joseph Quinnell)
Srinuan Saokhamnuan (left) poses with her Thai citizenship I.D. card, with Phubet Ekrmanaskarn (center) and Suebsak Eaimvijarn (right). (Joseph Quinnell)
Faiza Elmasry
A college photography assignment in Thailand turned into a lifetime mission for Joseph Quinnell.

Instead of simply documenting the problems of child labor, prostitution and human trafficking plaguing Thailand's stateless population, the University of Wisconsin junior decided to be part of the solution.  

His summer learning experience grew into a quest to help these young women - mostly Burmese refugees - get health care, education and legal recognition.

Invisible children

During his first trip to Mae Sai district in northern Thailand in 2005, Quinnell visited a school run by a non-profit organization.  When a group of youngsters ran past, the volunteer showing him around said, ‘These children do not exist.’

“I said, ‘What do you mean?’" Quinnell remembers. "She described it, saying that these were children who, at this moment, were really unaware of their situation. But soon, around third or fourth grade, they would be told they were stateless.”
Stateless children in Thailand peer into the classroom of a school they are barred from attending. (Joseph Quinnell)Stateless children in Thailand peer into the classroom of a school they are barred from attending. (Joseph Quinnell)
x
Stateless children in Thailand peer into the classroom of a school they are barred from attending. (Joseph Quinnell)
Stateless children in Thailand peer into the classroom of a school they are barred from attending. (Joseph Quinnell)

That was how he first learned about the plight of stateless children.

“They did not have citizenship from any country, won't be able to get a job, to travel, go to a university, to marry, to own property," Quinnell says. "Basically these children would not be able to dream of a future for themselves.”

Much of Thailand’s stateless population consists of ethnic minorities who fled the military regime in Burma. Neither immigrants nor refugees, they have no legal status.

Their children, even those born in Thailand, inherit their parents’ statelessness and hopelessness, becoming an easy target for human trafficking and child labor.

“There are 12- to 15 million stateless people worldwide," Quinnell says. "It is estimated that Thailand has the largest population of the stateless people; two to 3.5 million.”

Part of the solution

When Quinnell returned home, he decided to be part of the solution. Hoping to put a face on statelessness and raise money to fight it, he exhibited his photographs around Wisconsin.

He also helped create a program which sends state university students to Thailand.

“They would visit NGOs on the ground and work on the issues of statelessness and human trafficking," Quinnell says. "They would provide art, dance, theater and music classes to children at these NGOs.”

Help through education

Education is also at the heart of The Thailand Project, a non-profit Quinnell co-founded three years ago. His co-founder, Susan Perri, says their education program offers scholarships for two stateless students to attend the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

“We worked with Thai government officials and U.S. officials and NGOs on the ground in Thailand to get all the paperwork ready for these stateless students to come back with us to study in the U.S.”

'Bird in a cage'

Barred from attending a university in Thailand, Srinuan Saokhamnuan never even dreamed she would be accepted at an American school. The 24 year old was born to stateless parents who came to Thailand from Burma. Having no citizenship, she says, is a painful experience.
Stateless children cheer as Srinuan Saokhamnuan prepares to fly to the U.S. from Thailand for the first time. (Joseph Quinnell)Stateless children cheer as Srinuan Saokhamnuan prepares to fly to the U.S. from Thailand for the first time. (Joseph Quinnell)
x
Stateless children cheer as Srinuan Saokhamnuan prepares to fly to the U.S. from Thailand for the first time. (Joseph Quinnell)
Stateless children cheer as Srinuan Saokhamnuan prepares to fly to the U.S. from Thailand for the first time. (Joseph Quinnell)

“I just felt like I am a bird, that I have to stay in a cage all the time because I could not go anywhere," Saokhamnuan says. "My parents could not get good jobs. They could not be like a doctor or teacher.  They can work only in factories and they get paid really less than Thai people.”

She feels fortunate she stayed in school and was eligible for the program.  Now majoring in  communications and public relations, she says stateless kids don't usually make it very far in their education. Their parents usually pull them out of school to work or to be sold.  

She says that's what happened to one of her friends.

“Her mom actually was a prostitute," Saokhamnuan says. "She also sent her daughter to be a prostitute before sixth grade. It was the only way to make money.”

Rewarding results

Saving Saokhamnuan and others from that fate, says Quinnell, is the rewarding result of collaborating with other non-profits.

“Last summer she was granted Thai citizenship," Quinnell says. "Then her case actually snowballed into more than 400 stateless young men and women being granted Thai citizenship.”

Since receiving Thai citizenship, Saokhamnuan, who graduates in 2014, has been dreaming big.

“I want to go back to Thailand and work with some non-profit organizations to help people," she says, "to give them the opportunity to go to school.”

Like Quinnell, Saokhamnuan believes education is a critical tool in breaking the cycle of hopelessness stateless people are trapped in, giving them hope for a better future.

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs