KOTA KINABALU: Leaders should discuss issues of statelessness in a constructive manner instead of demonising the community of stateless people, says academician Wan Shawaluddin Wan Hassan.
The Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) senior lecturer said some leaders may feel they could gain political mileage by creating fear about this particular group of people, but it would not do anything at all when solving the longstanding problem of statelessness in Sabah.
"Whether you like it or not, they (the stateless community) exist in Sabah. So you have to address the issue in a positive way. Leaders are influential, and they can play an important role in changing mindsets," he added.
Wan Shawaluddin said he supported initiatives to issue documents such as birth certificates for the stateless, as it would allow them access to basic rights such as jobs, education and healthcare.
However, the public's lack of understanding about the importance of documentation for stateless people had been exploited to create fear towards them, he explained.
Similarly, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) acting chairman Jerald Joseph (pic) said leaders should have the political courage to stand by the stateless community.
"It is really unpopular for politicians to defend the stateless community. The political will is there, but what they need is a lot of political courage, especially to fight a racist mentality," he explained.
Jerald said a lot of work needed to be done to educate the public about statelessness and to change the narrative around this community.
"We have to break the myth that they are bad people or that they are stealing jobs from locals. Society doesn't understand that no child or adult want to live without security.
"People don't choose to be stateless. People are made stateless because there are no mechanisms available to give them status," he added.
Jerald said he hoped that the government would come up with humane solutions to the problem of statelessness in Sabah.
Wan Shawaluddin and Jerald spoke in a workshop organised by Suhakam in Kota Kinabalu titled "Statelessness in Sabah: Documentation Essential Towards Human Rights Protection" on Wednesday (April 24).