Southeast and East Asia

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General information

The Hmong, the Karen, the Lisu, the Mien, the Akha, the Lahu, the Lua, the Thin and the Khamu are the recognized indigenous peoples of Thailand. Most of them live as fishermen or as hunter-gatherers.
Although Thailand adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it does not officially recognize the existence of indigenous peoples in the country. There were some developments for the indigenous peoples of the country, but they continue to be stigmatized and challenged especially by land grabbing by the government.

Background on the indigenous communities

The indigenous peoples of Thailand live mainly in three geographical regions of the country. The people of Chao Ley, who are indigenous fishing communities, and the Mani, who are small hunter-gatherer populations, live in the south. Some small groups live on the Korat Plateau, northeast and east, while the highland villages, Chao-Khao, live in the north and northwest of the country.
Nine so-called mountain tribes are officially recognized. These are the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Thin and Khamu.
According to the Department of Welfare and Social Development, there are 3,429 villages of mountain tribes with a total population of 923,257 people. The indigenous peoples of the south and northeast are not included.


A major struggle for the indigenous peoples of Thailand is land grabbing by the government, such as Rawai, located in the province of Phuket. Rawai is a popular tourist spot in southern Thailand and also home to Chao Ley, a collective term for three indigenous groups: the Mogan, Moglen and Urak Lawoi.
The situation degenerated into violence in 2016 when the company hired a group of young men to prevent the villagers from entering their sacred area. The youths destroyed the huts and fishing equipment of Chao Ley, and around 30 Chao Ley were injured in the violent encounter and 10 seriously injured.
The government approved a master plan to solve the problems of deforestation, and that includes the suppression and arrest of people who are invading or destroying forest lands. These operations raise serious concerns for indigenous peoples, as they have not made an explicit distinction between illegal intruders and indigenous communities that have lived in those areas for a long time.

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