Statelessness and human trafficking in ASEAN member-states

IN 2017, the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide came at a record rate of 44,400 every day. More than 68 percent of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries: Syrian Arab Republic (6.3 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.4 million); Myanmar (1.2 million) – underscoring supplied; and Somalia (986,400). This makes statelessness a global trend. 

Stateless people do not have access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement leading to a lifetime of difficulties, disillusionment, and powerlessness.

The Philippines has 1,068 stateless persons based on information derived from These stateless persons are descendants of Indonesian migrants and have lived in Southern Mindanao.

As a signatory to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the country was first to adopt international legal standards to keep stateless people from falling into legal limbo in the region. The country has collaborated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2010 to promote and develop standards and operational responses to address the situation, and in support of efforts to reduce statelessness globally.

Malaysia and Thailand share the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Data from showed that by the end of 2017, a total of more than 1.5 million Rohingya have fled their homes because of crimes against humanity inflicted upon them in Rakhine State. This massive forced displacement of Rohingya population contributes to “visibility” of stateless populations worldwide.

Malaysia stateless persons also include ethnic Indians, and children of Filipino and Indonesian illegal migrants. Filipino and Indonesian children who are not officially registered or whose birth certificates are stamped “foreigner” are vulnerable to statelessness.

Thailand has 478,883 stateless persons based on government records.  Actual number could be as high as 3.5 million. Comprising the bulk of Thailand’s stateless population are the northern hill tribe people. Lack of documentation proving place of birth of either child or parents is a common problem. Most Chao Lay, maritime nomadic peoples, who travel from island to island in the Andaman Sea are also stateless.      

In 2016, the Thai government approved changes to its citizenship laws that could make 80,000 stateless persons eligible for citizenship. This is part of government efforts to achieve zero statelessness by 2024. Moreover, between 2012 and 2016, 23,000 stateless persons were able to obtain citizenship.

Vietnam has 34,110 stateless persons. Stateless ethnic Chinese Cambodian population dates back to the 1970s when thousands of Cambodians escaped the Khmer Rouge and were no longer recognized as Cambodian citizens. These include Vietnamese women who gave up their citizenship to marry foreign men and who found themselves stateless after divorcing and returning home. Government addressed this problem in 2009, and Vietnamese women are beginning to reclaim their citizenship.

On trafficking in persons, Southeast Asia is confronted with a serious challenge – it is a hub for human trafficking. According to, the region is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and the sex trade. It is also a transit point for traffickers from other parts of the world.

The 2018 Southeast Asia’s Tier Placement in Trafficking in Persons Report provided the following ratings: Philippines: Tier 1, Governments fully complied with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards; Malaysia: Tier 2 Watch List, Governments do not fully comply, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance, as well as other negative indicators; Thailand: Tier 2, Governments do not fully comply, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance; and Vietnam: Tier 2.

The Philippines is compliant with TVPA. We’re the only country in ASEAN given this rating in the 2018 report. This is largely due to the enactment of RA No. 10364: The Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 or “An Act to Institute Policies to Eliminate Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, Establishing the Necessary Institutional Mechanisms for the Protection and Support of Trafficked Persons, Providing Penalties for its Violations and for Other Purposes”.

Government agencies working together to ensure that provisions of the law are implemented and complied with include the DFA; DOLE; DSWD; DOJ; Philippine Commission on Women; BI; PNP and NBI;  POEA and Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration; DILG; Commission on Filipinos Overseas; and LGUs.



Today, millions of people around the world are denied a nationality. As a result, they often aren’t allowed to go to school, see a doctor, get a job, open a bank account, buy a house or even get married. – UNHCR


For comments, you may reach the writer at [email protected]./PN


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here