Stateless schoolgirl in Thailand at risk of missing Genius Olympiad in US

Yonladee Phiyatat
PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

A stateless schoolgirl risks losing the opportunity to attend an international high-school competition in the United States, if help does not come her way in time.

Growing up and studying in Thailand, Yonladee "Ploy" Phiyatat was invited to attend the Genius Olympiad in New York, but now finds herself entangled in problems related to her travel documents. "I am stateless and according to law cannot travel out of Thailand," Yonladee posted on Facebook.

"I am told I have only two choices: getting a Thai citizenship or losing the opportunity to attend the competition." According to the 17-year-old, she was born in Thailand and has always studied hard in the hope of contributing to the country's development.

She said that though she missed the May 1 application deadline, she still hopes to find some way of taking part in the competition. The competition is scheduled to kick off in the middle of next month.

The girl is being fully supported in her endeavours by her teachers at the Satree Ranong School in Ranong province, and with her case now attracting public attention, she has also won support from many others.

The Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec), for instance, has promised to step in and coordinate with the Interior Ministry for her.

"We cannot guarantee she will get Thai citizenship, but we will ensure she receives all the opportunities she can," Obec secretary-general Boonlux Yodpheth said, adding that Yonladee's participation in the international competition will be good for Thailand too.

Rukthai Prurapark, a lecturer at Srinakharinwirot University, was also quick to contact Yonladee after learning about her situation. "I am ready to pay for her trip and be her guarantor for the US visa," he said, adding that he has told Yonladee about his offer and she has said she will discuss it with her teachers and Obec.

Surapong Kongchantuk, who previously led the Lawyers Council of Thailand's subcommittee on human rights, the stateless, migrants and displaced persons, said he hoped Yonladee would be granted a visa because she was in the process of seeking Thai citizenship and had been given certification letters from Thai authorities.

"It's so clear that she intends to visit the US for participation in the academic competition," he said. Mong Thongdee, who was in a similar situation a few years ago, also expressed support for Yonladee on Facebook.

More than 10 years ago, Mong had problems travelling out of Thailand to represent the country in a paper-plane competition. However, despite the publicity his case gained, Mong was only granted Thai citizenship last year, ust like the stateless boys who were rescued from the flooded Tham Luang Cave.