Home minister’s initiative on statelessness must be made effective

Stateless children in Malaysia - Photograph: EPA/Aljazeera

Lawyers for Liberty refer to the home minister’s recent statement that his ministry will be giving stateless persons one year to make an application for citizenship.

We have long called for serious and effective action by successive governments to resolve the problems of statelessness in Malaysia. We welcome this move by the ministry as an indication that the government is finally serious in resolving this longstanding problem, which has caused untold suffering to those wrongfully denied citizenship.

Though details of this move have not yet been announced, we caution the minister to ensure that the mechanism for these applications must be clear and unambiguous. A proper standard operating procedure must be configured, and the information must be accessible to prospective applicants.

The Ministry of Home Affairs must be clear about what kind of documentation is needed for the application; a proper checklist must be in place and the National Registration Department must be tasked with giving the necessary advice and guidance to any stateless person who comes forward to make an application.

Most importantly, the documentation required must be reasonable. Stateless persons generally lack any proper and formal form of identification. Any documentation required must be in line with the provisions of the Federal Constitution, ie the documents needed must only pertain to what is necessary to prove the qualification for citizenship under the relevant provisions of the Federal Constitution.

If it is clear that the applicant is entitled to citizenship as of right, lack of documentation cannot be a bar to confirming the citizenship of the applicant. This would be the case for example, where a person was born and has lived in Malaysia all their life, but has no formal documentation.

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In this regard, we are glad that the home minister specifically stated that apart from valid documentation, “other evidence” will be accepted.

A common problem that we have previously faced is the National Registration Department’s failure to distinguish between those making an application for citizenship and those who qualify for citizenship as of right under Article 14 of the Federal Constitution.

Those under the latter category are usually refused the right to make an application under Article 14 despite fulfilling the criteria under the provision. Therefore, it is pertinent that the mechanism introduced by the ministry must make clear the National Registration Department’s role in receiving these applications.

We sincerely hope the upcoming announcement by the ministry will provide a holistic mechanism that would effectively solve the issue of statelessness in Malaysia. Without proper procedures and execution, this move will ultimately come to nought.

Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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