One size solution doesn’t fit all in citizenship woes, Sarawak groups tell Putrajaya

Sulok Tawie
Jaban said the government’s approach to resolve the citizenship problem in the peninsula cannot be adopted in Borneo Malaysia due to their different social, cultural and historical backgrounds. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, Aug 16 — Citizenship problems in Malaysia are not so easily solved by registering those born in the country and can speak Bahasa Malaysia, two Sarawak civil society groups said.

The reasons for why those born in Malaysia but remain stateless in the 21st-century will persist unless the federal government addresses the core problems of illiteracy and poor infrastructure access for marginalised communities, Solidariti Anak Sarawak (SAS) leader Peter John Jaban added.

“There must be a process of engagement with these marginalised communities so that tailored solutions can be developed,” he said.

“The solution to the statelessness cannot be on a case-by-case basis and must involve a proper process of engagement with a variety of stakeholders, from civil societies, from the communities themselves and from the various government agencies in Sarawak.

“Only then can a workable solution be developed,” he said in response to yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that citizenship would be granted to permanent residents aged 60 years and above.

Dr Mahathir also said those under 60 would be considered for citizenship if they were born in the country and passed a test to prove they were proficient in the national language.

He noted that citizenship to senior holders of the red MyKads — which grant permanent residency — was part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition’s GE14 election pledges, adding that his administration was meeting it with the award to 3,407 ethnic Indians over 60 years old.

Jaban, a well-known local rights advocate, said the government’s approach to resolve the citizenship problem in the peninsula cannot be adopted in Borneo Malaysia due to their different social, cultural and historical backgrounds.

He claimed there are thousands of indigenous communities living in remote areas in Sarawak without official documents like birth certificates and identity cards due to various reasons, citing as examples limited road access and years of educational neglect for their ignorance of registering the births of their children born locally.

He indicated that it was a chicken-and-egg situation as local-borns without documentation were deemed to be stateless by the National Registration Department and their children could not go to school or enjoy the free health facilities, resulting in the cycle of ignorance repeating itself endlessly.

“How will they tackle individuals with no documentation whatsoever?” he asked.

Jaban said SAS had also come across members from the same family who had different colour-coded MyKads.

He called for a complete overhaul of the NRD’s approach to resolve statelessness in Sarawak and Sabah.

Another civil society group, Lawyer Kamek for Change (LK4C) urged the PH federal government to streamline its citizenship application procedures for stateless natives.

LK4C spokesman Simon Siah noted task force after task force had been formed on the matter in the past two years, but did not resolve the dilemma faces by natives.

“Although such task forces were set up to register stateless children who are below the age of 21 years old under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution, and fairly recently the initiative under Article 19 of the Federal Constitution for those who are above 21 years old, statelessness is still a big problem in Sarawak,” he said.

Siah said only applicants who applied through the task force within a certain period of time were given citizenship, adding that over 4,098 applicants had applied and about only 2,885 of them were approved.

He said the other 1,213 applicants were rejected, but he does not know the reasons.

Siah proposed that the PH government remove its reservation over Article 7 of the Convention of Rights for Children (CRC) and fully rectify Article 7 into the Malaysian Law so that all children born in Malaysia must be registered immediately after birth with their nationality as Malaysians.

He noted that Malaysia is a signatory to the CRC.

“With the rectification of Article 7 of the CRC into our own constitution and our law, there will be no need for the task force anymore as the national registration department are empowered to give citizenship for children born in Malaysia.

“Whatever procedures that are required for the stateless children to adhere to, such procedures must be given a time frame and the reason for objections must be informed to the applicants. It is just morally wrong and inhumane to leave a child hanging without an identity,” he said.