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A life dedicated to ending statelessness in Thailand, advocate named as UNHCR Nansen Award Finalist

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Tuenjai Deetes, a life-long campaigner for the rights of stateless people in Thailand, has been named as this year’s UNHCR’s Nansen Award Finalist for Asia.

Building on her strong belief in human rights, Tuenjai has spent over 40 years passionately working towards improving the living conditions for hill tribe communities in Thailand and ending statelessness across the country.

“I dreamt of an inclusive society where diversity is embraced, and all people can fully exercise their rights and develop their potential”, Tuenjai, told UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Tuenjai was 20 when she began her work as a volunteer in 1973, and in 2006, over thirty years later, became a legislator, contributing to the enactment of two vital laws concerning nationality and civil registration. Since 2015 she has continued to campaign for further resolving statelessness as a National Human Rights Commissioner.

“Tuenjai has demonstrated an inspiring commitment to human rights throughout her life”, said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s Bureau Director for the Asia-Pacific. “She has gone to significant lengths to ensure access to rights for stateless communities in Thailand, giving hope to many for a brighter future”.

Important reforms in 2008, and the adoption of a progressive nationality strategy by the Royal Thai Government to address statelessness, have seen some 100,000 stateless persons acquire Thai nationality since then.  As a regional leader, and strong supporter of UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign, the government has also committed to finding nationality solutions for 480,000 currently stateless individuals by 2024.

People who are not formally recognised as a national of any State are considered ‘stateless’ and can find themselves without access to basic rights and services. In some cases they cannot travel, marry, own property, work or effectively contribute to the societies in which they live. Their problem often remains unseen and unheard, leaving them marginalised and alienated from their wider community. Several million people are known to be stateless worldwide.

“As human beings, we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” Tuenjai says. “We all have the right to a nationality. This is why I have dedicated my whole life to end statelessness”.

UNHCR’s Nansen Award is an annual accolade that celebrates those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support refugees and asylum seekers, stateless persons, and the internally displaced.  It is named in honour of Norwegian explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees appointed by the League of Nations in 1921.

The Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangkok, both supporters of UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign, are hosting an event on12 September to celebrate this occasion.