Being stateless denotes that you are not a citizen of any sovereign country in this world, and are therefore not protected by the laws of any nation. A stateless person will also not be entitled to other benefits a country’s citizen has been granted, including education, job opportunities and medical care services.
According to estimates by NGOs, there are about 1 to 1.5 million stateless children who were born in Malaysia and are now living in poverty along with their parents.
Since they are granted any identification document, they are unable to receive education in this country, and this means they will remain poor and detached from the society when they grow up later.
Fortunately there are organizations which would do everything to help these people by locating their lost identification documents or providing them free education, medical and legal assistance.
Government assistance essential
Development of Human Resources for Rural Area (DHRRA) has launched the MyDocument project in 2003 to help stateless individuals apply for ID documents and citizenships. The organization has handled 7,085 cases up till 2013, of which 5,425 cases have been successfully resolved while the rest are still being processed.
DHRRA executive director Nanthini Ramalo said due to the limited resources, the organization currently focuses only on West Malaysia, helping stateless individuals apply for birth certificates, MyKad, marriage certificates and citizenships.
“We initially wanted to help improve the lives of impoverished people in remote rural areas. We later discovered that they didn’t even have the basic infrastructure before we realized there were so many former Malaysians who were now stateless.”
She said many of the ethnic Indian stateless people live in remote estates and many have not applied for documents for their children because they can get access to the basic welfare in the estates even if they do not have the necessary documents.
“They only started to realize the importance of documents after their estates were taken over by the government and they were forced to move out.”
However, when the residents at an estate were forced to move to different places, even those within the same family, it has become difficult for them to collect evidences for their identities.
Nanthini said the government has set up regular channels to help this group of people while the National Registration Department is seeking more appropriate ways to address the problem. She said the cost involved for each applicant is between RM60 and RM80, including fees for fine deferment, recovering their past documents or proof of identities, transport charges, etc.
She said most of the stateless people are living in abject poverty. As some of them are unable to pay the fees for document application for multiple members in the family, DHRRA will have to help them settle the fees, adding that the organization’s funds have derived mostly from government allocations.
“We have yet to receive this year’s allocations. We hope the government will not cease offering assistance or we will encounter financial difficulty.”
DHRRA currently hires seven full-time staff and many volunteers helping to recover evidences of the stateless people’s birth.
“Their estates have been closed down and doctors and midwives have all moved out. We need to find people who can prove these people’s birth so that they can be issued with birth certificates.
“This explains why we need a very large number of volunteers as well as government assistance so that we can extend our help to these people.’
As for Malays and Chinese, some of them have sought assistance from DHRRA because they are unable to register their children outside legitimate marriages.
“As Muslims are not allowed to have children outside legitimate marriages, they are not able to register their children born this way,” said Nanthini.
Some Chinese men have illegitimate children with foreign women who are not their wives, and these children become stateless because their fathers could not register them while their mothers might leave the country after giving birth to them.
“Since these children are not from their legitimate wives, they are afraid to apply or birth certificates at the JPN.”
Based on children’s needs, not ethnicity
Voice of the Children (VoC) is collecting information on stateless children across the country from non-governmental organizations, and has found that some 500,000 people have been seeking assistance from NGOs in West Malaysia, with some 1 million people estimated in East Malaysia.
Other than the originally Malaysian stateless people, there are also refugees from Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines as well as their children. Although they are holding refugee cards and have been living here for years, they are still unable to work legally in this country. It remains unknown whether they will be arranged to settle down in a third country in the future.
VoC chairman Sharmila Sekaran explains that these refugees are living in very hostile environment, many having to squeeze themselves in very tight and dirty spaces, making it possible for contagious diseases that have once come under control in this country to make a comeback anytime soon.
“Denial of access to medical allowances is the key to these problems.’
Sharmila emphasized that the issue of stateless children could also be attributed to human trafficking activities.
“We understand that some of the people smugglers have forced unmarried mothers to give up their children who will then be sold to couples intending to adopt them. As these children do not have birth certificates, many prospective buyers have been unwilling to adopt these children.”
She said these children are not allowed to attend a school, get a job or even become an apprentice. They are unable to become citizens of other nations due to absence of skills and documents to prove their past.
VoC has also produced a documentary film on stateless children, relating the stories of three children: an Indian girl whose family has been living in the estate for generations, a child born in Sabah of Philippine refugees and a small girl kidnapped by people smugglers.
The documentary highlights the problems and dilemma of stateless individuals in this country in hope of getting public attention of the plight of these children.
Sharmila stresses that the government should evaluate based on the links of the children to this land instead of their ethnic backgrounds.
“We hope the government will allow these stateless children born in Malaysia to apply to become citizens. As the government is unable to repatriate these people, why not allow them to work here so that they can be delivered out of poverty? This will help improve the public security of this country while improving their living environment, thus reducing the risks of contagious diseases.’
VoC is calling for more precise regulations for citizenship application, for example those staying here for a certain number of years should be eligible to apply for citizenships.
Features 2014-07-31 14:24
Most of the stateless people are living in abject poverty. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily