Thai cave rescue boys go back to school – and stateless students get citizenship

Thai Cave Boys Main
Back to school - the boys in their respective school uniforms at the ceremony (TNAMCOT / Twitter)

The young footballers, whose rescue was watched around the world, will get catch-up classes and then be treated "like any other students".

The 12 boys whose dramatic rescue from a cave in Thailand made global headlines have gone back to school.

They were warmly welcomed in a ceremony at a middle school in Chiang Rai province, where six members of the Wild Boars football team are students.

The boys will get catch-up classes but will be treated “like any other students at school,” said Kanet Pongsuwan, the director of Mae Sai Prasitsart School.

For three of the boys – including Adul Sam-un, who became famous by speaking in English to the British cave divers who found them – there was a second bit of good news this week.

They and their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, had been stateless – meaning they were not legally recognised by Thailand or any other country. But they have been granted Thai citizenship in a move welcomed yesterday by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

Adul is among more than 400,000 people who are registered as stateless in Thailand, according to UNHCR – although some estimates put their numbers at 3.5 million. 

Stateless children are often denied education, health services and freedom of movement.

Members Of The Wild Boars Football Team That Were Trapped In Cave

Members of the Wild Boars football team who were trapped in a cave for over two weeks (Thai government)

“By providing these boys and their coach with citizenship, Thailand has given them the chance to both dream of a brighter future and to reach their full potential,” said Carol Batchelor, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Statelessness.

“By granting them citizenship, Thailand has provided them with a formal identity that will pave the way for them to achieve their aspirations,” she said.

Adul was born in Myanmar’s self-governing Wa State and left his family to get a better education in northern Thailand. He was taken in by a Christian church, where his parents visit him, and has been at school since he was seven.

The 12 boys and their coach became trapped inside the Tham Luang Cave. An international rescue effort ended more than two weeks later on July 10 when they were all brought out safely.

After a short stay in hospital for health checks, they spent nine days in a Buddhist monastery, a tradition for Thai males who experience adversity.

At the ceremony this week, the boys were given new school uniforms and learning materials, as well as red jerseys from a representative of Germany’s Bayern Munich football club.