Ni or Rasita Suiyoung told Prachatai that she crossed the border into Thailand in 2002 with her mother, after her father had died in Burma. Her elder brother had worked in Thailand, and after he learnt of the father's death, he brought Ni and their mother to Ranong.
"My brother said that if we still lived there, I might be forced to marry a Burmese, and we might be assimilated, becoming Burmese. He told us we'd better move to Thailand. So we decided to come to Ranong, and then lived with relatives in Phang-nga," Ni told of her journey.
During the reign of King Rama V, Siam reached an agreement on the Siam-Burma border with Britain, which occupied Burma at that time. Some territories were lost to Burma, together with some Thai people who lived there. Ni is one of the Thais who technically become Burmese.
After moving here, she entered school at grade 3 in a school in Phang-nga, and in the following year her relatives brought her to study in Ranong.
"When I was in grade 5, the teacher asked for my ID number. I didn't say anything, as I thought the teacher would soon forget. But in the days that followed, the teacher kept asking. I told him that I hadn't brought it [the ID number]. He said the other pupils had all given him their numbers, except me. So I told him I was not born here; I was a displaced Thai. He said you're not Thai, you're Burmese, aren't you? Your Thai is good. My classmates all heard that, and said that it was good to have a Burmese here."
She quit school the next day, leaving in disgrace and pain.
"Actually, I didn't blame them, because they could think what they liked. But up till now the problem still remains. Even though the school is open for children, they still require the 13-digit number," she said in tears.
Sutin Kingkaew, Chair of the Network of Displaced Thais in Ranong, Chumphon, and Prachuab Khiri Khan, said that the education is still a problem. Some children in some schools earn certificates, but many do not. Teachers are supposed to have a better understanding than other people, but they always ask for the house registration and ID card numbers, and respond with contempt when the children cannot provide them, he said.
"As a matter of fact, to set the record straight, we are not displaced Thais, rather our land was displaced. We didn't go anywhere. Once the border was settled, we just became non-Thai. Were our ancestors informed that we would lose our nationality?" Sutin complained.
He said ever since they set foot in Thailand they have tried to appeal for their rights, but they have just been completely ignored and abused.
"Our people were raped, and beaten up, but we could not report it to the police. If we go to the police, we'd be told we don't have ID cards and cannot be helped."
So the Network of Displaced Thais in Ranong, Chumphon, and Prachuab Khiri Khan was formed, and 4,686 displaced Thais have registered with the Network. The total number of displaced Thais scattering around is expected to be around 20,000.
The network has submitted petitions to several relevant state agencies. They even sent a letter to the British government through the British Embassy in Thailand to inform London of their plight and sufferings, because Britain was involved in Siam's loss of Marid, Tavoy and Tenasserim to Burma.
However, the embassy brushed their petition aside, saying that was history and nothing can be done. Natthapon Singtuen, coordinator of the Mirror Foundation's Assistance Project for Tsumani-hit Ethnic Minorities, told Prachatai that after the network went to participate in Thailand's Tribal Peoples Day in Chiang Mai, they have been active for their cause.
"Their representatives submitted a petition directly to Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanond in Krabi. And they submitted a petition to Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham at Ban Nam Khem, Takua Pa district in Phang-nga. And the government set up a panel on the issue of displaced Thais to find solutions. But nothing can be done, because the laws don't allow it," Natthapon said.
Sutin Kingkaew said that their urgent demands for the government now were to give them Thai nationality, and issue them with a kind of temporary ID card while their identity is being verified.
Translated by Ponglert Pongwanan