Unless the federal constitution is amended, stateless people have nowhere to turn to

Letter to editor

AMINAH wakes up to another grim day knowing that she is stateless and there is nothing much she can do about it. The federal constitution does not recognise her as a Malaysian citizen although her father is a Malaysian.

Arokiasamy Abdullah and Fatimah are a childless couple who decided to adopt a boy from an orphanage in Rawang. Their child, later named, Zaid Abdullah was discovered in a box by the roadside when he was born but now – at 13-years-old – Zaid is still stateless.

Karen who has an auto immune disease has just turned 16. Next year, she will be entering college but without a blue IC (identity card), she will encounter difficulties to enrol with the college.

Unlike most patients having to pay only RM5, the single father of this stateless girl who suffers from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) has to fork out RM800 every month for both medication and doctor consultation at the public hospital. Karen’s father is Malaysian but her mother is a foreigner, and Karen herself was born out of wedlock.

Except that their real names are concealed, all the above hardship are real life situations.

Pic credit: The ASEAN Post

Controversial amendment

Since its amendment in 1961 from Jus Soli to Jus Sanguinis, the federal constitution has left thousands of people being stateless. With this longstanding problem, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail has proposed a 10-point amendment that will hopefully solve many of these problems.

Currently, the National Registration Department (NRD) is unable to issue any stateless people with a blue IC, the moment they turn 12. Unless the Home Minister uses his ministerial powers to approve the special cases for citizenship, all three stateless people will remain stateless – some for life.

What I read in the news about the explanation made by Saifuddin is therefore very positive. Saifuddin has proposed to amend procedures to grant citizenship to stateless children and foundlings who were abandoned by their parents after birth and is discovered and cared for by others.

If Saifuddin is successful in pushing for the federal constitution to be amended, Zaid who is born of a Rohingya mother and an Indonesian – both of whom are living in Malaysia – will be allowed citizenship at birth.

Unless the proposed amendments are made to the Second Schedule, Part II Section 1(e) and the Second Schedule, Part III, section 19(b) of the federal constitution, the NRD’s hands are tied. It has no power to issue the blue IC.

The amendment is to change citizenship through operation of law to the process of registration which means that Zaid’s statelessness would be solved through the registration process since by operation of law, he does not qualify as a citizen.

Likewise, both Aminah and Karen can be registered as citizens by virtue of their birth in Malaysia.

I see this as good news to most stateless people. Therefore, I am truly surprised with the statements by Malaysian Bar Council president Karen Cheah and Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) director Zaid Malek about the amendments to the federal constitution to solve the problem of stateless people in Malaysia.

In summary, Cheah said that “the proposed changes may lead to more people becoming stateless by operation of law.” How is that?

Meanwhile, Zaid reckoned that “Saifuddin is ignoring the plight of the stateless but instead framing it as a security issue due to the country purportedly facing problems involving migrants and others”.

Currently, the federal constitution grants that the citizenship under Article 15A (Registration of Citizenship under Special Circumstances) has to be approved by the Home Minister for people born in Malaysia but below the age of 21.

It would have been better if the citizenship can be determined by Operation of Law for all three cases above by including the various categories into the existing list.

However, it has to be acknowledged that Saifuddin has done all he can to solve the problem of the stateless people recently with him personally approving every one of the 8,000 cases that have been processed by the NRD this year before they can be given the blue IC.

After the amendments, stateless people would be able to look forward to receive their citizenship by registration. – Nov 6, 2023


Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main pic credit: Bernama

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