ON August 30, the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness marked its 60th anniversary – a convention that Malaysia has yet to accede to despite being the home to a large number of stateless people.
According to the White Paper on “Malaysia’s invisible poor: The stateless communities” produced by Wiki Impact, it is estimated that there are 12,400 stateless people in Peninsular Malaysia and 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.
These are real people, who still cannot access healthcare, education and employment.
As we celebrate Malaysia Day for the 58th time, one cannot help but wonder how many more years till Malaysia Day can mean something to them, too.
The stateless communities 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 and displacement, among other challenges that are unique to their status as undocumented individuals. Their children are also locked in the same vicious cycle.
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 its #IBelong campaign championed by UNHCR that aims to end statelessness within 10 years.
Malaysia must get on board with this. The state must start identifying ways that we can protect our stateless people and provide them with a long-term solution.
The issue of statelessness should not be left solely to civil societies. It is not a battle that can be won with short-term approaches like donations and volunteerism.
There must be reforms in the system when it comes to granting citizenship and the government must come up with a dedicated framework to properly identify and protect stateless people in Malaysia.
Currently, the legal process to gain identification for stateless individuals is tedious and confusing.
In fact, it may take years before any news of approval, and it is not uncommon for applicants to be rejected without reason.
It is inhumane for us to make the stateless communities jump through hoops before they can gain a permanent resident or citizen status.
Especially when they are left to figure it out on their own without support, aid or advice. This situation is not something that Malaysia should continue to push to the sideline.
In the spirit of Keluarga Malaysia, we should instead call for genuine inclusion that will make space for everyone.
The stateless people in Malaysia deserve better. They deserve the right to call Malaysia my home. – September 15, 2021.
* Cellini Basri is head of external relations and advocacy at Bait Al-Amanah.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.