Paper Plane Champion: Ten Years On and Still Waiting for Promised Nationality

 | Fri 10 Aug 2018 08:10 ICT

CityNews – Ten years ago, in November 2008, Citylife published a cover story about a young stateless Chiang Mai student who had won an international paper airplane competition in Japan. He returned to Thailand to much fanfare and media interest, including ours. Ten years on, and thanks to the media coverage of the footballers rescued from Tham Luang Cave four of whom were stateless and have since obtained legal citizenship, the young paper airplane competitor’s story has returned to the spotlight.

Mong Thongdee was a student at Ban Huay Sai School in Suthep Sub-District who made national headlines for his accomplishment in winning a paper airplane contest in Japan, the year 2008. He had initially won the national prize, but being stateless, was unable to compete internationally. Following media spotlight and social commentary, Thailand issued him a temporary passport and he flew to Japan to win first prize in the team category and third in the individual category. At aged 12 he became a ‘Thai national hero’, according to the Bangkok Post. As his story was the talk of the town, he was given hope that he may soon obtain Thai nationality. Ten years later, he is still struggling to become legal.

“I have forgiven the people that made promises to me that I would be given Thai nationality and a scholarship,” said Mong, to the Bangkok Post last year. “Looking back, I just feel that adults should never promise a kid something they are not sure they can deliver. In close to a decade, it has been my parents who have largely supported my education.”

The story of Mong is back in the spotlight because of the stark comparison between how he, and the four cave footballers, were treated.

Venus Srisuk, director of the Bureau of Registration Administration clarified their cases to the press recently stating that the footballers met all qualification standards for citizenship as their parents can be identified, they all fell into the indigenous people category, and the boys had been living in Thailand for 15 years, whereas in Mong’s case his parents are undocumented migrant workers. To obtain the nationality, Mong either has to obtain a bachelor’s degree or be certified that he has been doing good cause for the nation.

While Mong’s was a household name for a while, being lauded by multiple media as a hero, he has never been certified as having been an asset to the nation. Though it is unclear what certification he requires to be eligible for the good cause clause. Now, he has applied for a certificate from the Ministry of Science and Technology and is expecting to get through the process in nine months. In an interview with Channel 3 recently, Mong who is now 21, and has moved from flying paper airplanes to drones, stated that he was assured that he would receive his nationality…eventually.