Tough road to citizenship

THE 60th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness was marked on Aug 30. The Convention, which was adopted in 1961 and entered into force on Dec 13, 1975, complements the 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and was the result of over a decade of international negotiations on how to avoid the incidence of statelessness.

Sadly, Malaysia is not a party to the Convention despite having a large number of stateless individuals.

According to the Wiki Impact article titled “Malaysia’s Invisible Poor: The Stateless Communities” (latest update March 23, 2021), the number of stateless persons in Peninsular Malaysia is estimated to be 12,400, and there are about 800,000 in Sabah and Sarawak.

This is a staggering number of individuals who have been failed by the state for years, and even decades for some. As a result, they cannot access healthcare, education and employment.

As we celebrate the 58th anniversary of the formation of our nation, they must be wondering how many more Malaysia Days will pass before they can finally be citizens.

These stateless individuals deserve to call Malaysia their home. They were born here but have been long deprived of basic human rights and protection.

They are vulnerable to poverty, human trafficking, displacement and other challenges that are unique to their status as individuals without legal documents such as a birth register certificate.

This is a human rights violation on our part, and it has to change. The international community is already moving towards resolving existing situations of statelessness through the #IBelong campaign, an initiative championed by UNHCR, which aims to end statelessness within 10 years.

In his address to mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said, “New global challenges, such as Covid-19 and the effects of climate change, on top of persistent ones like rising forced displacement, showcase just how critical the right to a nationality is. Everyone needs to be counted and be visible in the eyes of their country and government, and included into responses.

“Having a nationality – and the protection of a government that nationality affords – can make a life-saving difference, even more so in times of crisis, whether it’s vaccination, evacuation or providing a social safety net that is needed.”

Malaysia must get on this #IBelong bandwagon and start identifying ways to protect our stateless people and provide them with a long-term solution.

Addressing the issues pertaining to statelessness should not be left solely on NGOs and civil societies. It is not a battle that can be won with short-term approaches like making donations and volunteerism. The system for granting citizenship must be reviewed and the government must come up with a dedicated framework to properly identify and protect stateless people in Malaysia.

Currently, the legal process for stateless individuals to gain citizenship is tedious and confusing, and it may take years before their applications are approved. And it is not uncommon for applicants to be rejected without any reasons given.

It is inhumane to make the stateless jump through hoops before they can gain permanent resident status or citizenship, especially when they are left to figure it out without support and advice.

On Malaysia Day and in the spirit of Keluarga Malaysia, all Malaysians should call for genuine inclusion that will make space for everyone. The stateless people here deserve the right to call Malaysia their home.


Head of External Relations & Advocacy

Bait Al-Amanah

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