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Boys rescued from cave, once stateless, get Thai citizenship

BANGKOK — Three young soccer players who were trapped with other teammates for almost three weeks in a cave in northern Thailand were granted Thai citizenship on Wednesday along with their 25-year-old coach.

All four had been stateless, and their lack of citizenship deprived them of some basic benefits and rights, including the ability to travel outside of Chiang Rai, the northern province where they live. The area is home to ethnic minorities with roots in neighboring Myanmar.

The boys and coach were among 13 people who were trapped in the cave until their dramatic rescue by scuba divers.

Nopparat Kanthawong, the head coach of the Wild Boars team, said they received official Thai ID cards along with another team member who had not been in the cave but also applied for citizenship.

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‘‘I’m happy,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to say that football (soccer) can elevate the lives of kids whose families may not be in the best position.’’

‘‘If they have Thai citizenship, in the future, if they don’t want to play football they can take exams to become public officials or find good work that is related to their field of studies,’’ he said.

Nopparat said he submitted documentation on Wednesday to help apply for citizenship for seven other Wild Boar players who are stateless.

The boys given citizenship Wednesday in their home district of Mae Sai had all applied for it before the cave incident, and all were fully qualified for the change in status, said a local official, district chief Somsak Kanakam.

There are 488,105 stateless people registered in Thailand, according to government statistics.

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