Thailand is home to thousands of people who were born there, but are not recognized as citizens due to a lack of documentation.
In the northern hills of Chiang Rai alone, there are at least seven major ethnic groups and some 50,000 people that are not considered Thai citizens. Without citizenship, they cannot technically own land or vote and are often excluded from state-funded health care.
The population of the hill tribes in Thailand is estimated at 1.2 million. Rights groups like Plan International say that of those, an estimated 500,000 ethnic minorities in Thailand are in the same situation.
While many of the tribes in northern Thailand migrated over in the past 200 years from war-torn Burma, Laos, Tibet and China, many more have lived for generations in the lush hills of Thailand's highlands. Each hill tribe has its own language, customs, way of dressing and beliefs, and most are of semi-nomadic origin.
Human rights violations, lack of education options and discrimination on several levels are each large factors that have lead the tribes to live in poverty.
Restricted freedom of movement is another major issue the tribes face. While movement of non-citizens within certain areas is allowed, if tribesmen are found outside of these areas, they face instant arrest.
Perhaps the greatest issue the tribes face is that of their perception. Rather than being embraced as part of Thailand's diverse ethnic makeup, the tribes are more often associated with deforestation, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, and even communist activity. While some of these claims are true, more often than not, they are part of a negative, desensitizing campaign by the Thai government.
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