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Petty Officer Beirut Pakbara, a Royal Thai Navy SEAL, has died of a blood infection he contracted during the rescue mission last year for 12 boys and their soccer coach in northern Thailand. Pakbara fell ill with a blood infection during the rescue. He was under medical supervision following the mission but was unable to recover after his condition worsened.
He was buried in his home province of Satun on Friday, December 27 in accordance with Islamic funeral rites.
Pakbara is the second SEAL to die from the rescue mission. Saman Gunan, the first, died during the rescue while delivering air tanks along the escape route when he ran out of air and lost consciousness.
A statue of Saman Gunan was erected outside the cave entrance in remembrance of his bravery.
The boys are alright
On June 23, 2018, The Wild Boars youth soccer team was trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave after heavy rainfall had shut the boys and their coach inside. After 18 days and a dramatic international rescue, all of the boys were freed. The boys, aged 11 and 16, and their coach, 25, survived for nine days by drinking water dripping from rocks above their heads.
Following the rescue, the boys were whisked across the world, met the Manchester United soccer team and even attended the Ellen Degeneres show. A movie about the mission, “The Cave,” was released earlier this year. An upcoming miniseries is also set to premiere on Netflix.
After a ceremony attended by government officials, monks and park rangers, Tham Luang reopened to tourists in November of this year.
Spotlight on statelessness in Thailand
While the boys have received considerable attention following the rescue, the event has also raised the profile of issues surrounding stateless persons. All of the boys were born in Thailand, but three of them, including their coach, were not considered official Thai citizens. This is because they are part of minority communities that traditionally straddle the border regions of Thailand, Burma and Laos.
Many people in these communities live on the fringes of their country’s society, often without official documentation or legal status.
Although the boys received Thai citizenship shortly after the rescue, many others living in Thailand aren’t as fortunate. The United Nations says there are at least 487,000 stateless persons living in Thailand.
The Thai government, however, is reportedly making efforts to improve the situation. In September, the government laid out plans to provide a pathway to citizenship for all eligible undocumented students in the Thai education system. The initiative has been praised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a “courageous step” to end statelessness.