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Stateless boy gets 3rd in paper airplane contest

A boy with no nationality who lives in Thailand captured third place in a paper airplane contest after his pleas to be allowed to attend prompted authorities to grant him a temporary passport for the event.
Image: Mong Thongdee at paper airplane competition
Mong Thongdee, a 12 -year-old stateless who was born in Thailand to Myanmar migrants, competes during the team indoor flight duration competition at the All-Japan Origami Airplane Contest in Makuhari, near Tokyo, on Saturday.Koji Sasahara / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A boy with no official nationality who lives in Thailand captured third place in a Japanese paper airplane contest Sunday after his tearful pleas to be allowed to attend prompted authorities to grant him a rare temporary passport for the event.

Mong Thongdee, 12, won a national paper airplane championship in Thailand in August 2008 after he threw a plane that flew for 12 seconds, and was later chosen to attend the Japanese contest in Chiba, near Tokyo. But Mong, who lives in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, is the son of Myanmar migrants who are stateless and so have no legal right to travel abroad.

His first application to leave Thailand was denied, but after national media coverage of him quietly sobbing after the refusal captured the hearts of many Thais he was granted a temporary passport.

Mong appeared Sunday in a white T-shirt decorated with the Thai flag, whipping his carefully folded airplanes high into the air during the competition in front of hundreds of spectators.

He placed third in the division for elementary school students with a time of 10.53 seconds. In an earlier exhibition, Mong's airplane stayed in the air for 16.45 seconds.

After the event he said he wanted his family back home to know he got third place, and that he was grateful to the people who supported him.

On Saturday, his three-person Thai team won the group competition. Contestants quickly fold their planes at the event, then throw them into the air.

Mong's ethnic Shan parents have only temporary permission to live and work in Thailand, so although he was born in the country he has only temporary resident status. Under normal circumstances, if he left and tried to return, his status would be revoked and he would be barred re-entry to the country where he was born.

When his initial application for temporary exit papers was denied, the story dominated the front pages of Thai newspapers, and a national lawyers' council petitioned the court on his behalf.

His tale has led to fresh attention for those in his situation in Thailand, who have less access to education and health care. Mong is on a list of people who will be considered for repatriation to Myanmar in February 2010.