Saifuddin is wrong, the stateless face huge difficulties in applying for citizenship

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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by Lawyers for Liberty

In a statement on 10 March, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail claimed that foundlings face no problems in applying for citizenship, and that all 142 applications between 2014 and 2023 were approved.

He also claimed that for foundlings beyond the age of infancy, 98% of applications were approved.

He produced these figures in trying to defend the highly controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which among other things will deprive constitutional safeguards for foundlings.

These figures claimed by Saifuddin are simply not credible, and are starkly contrary to the experience of activists, NGOs and individual stateless persons who have made repeated unsuccessful applications.

If every foundling application is being approved, then why are there so many cases filed by foundlings pending in the courts? There should be none in the courts, going by Saifuddin’s figures.

The figures produced by Saifuddin do not in any way reflect the total number of stateless foundlings or persons in the country. At best, they are only the number of applications allegedly made.

The figures thus shed no light on the real numbers of stateless foundlings or foundling-adults out there who may have made multiple applications and been rejected or who do have the means or ability to make applications due to fear arising from not having identity documents, lack of literacy or challenges in dealing with the officialdom at the National Registration Department.

For instance, Saifuddin’s figure of 142 foundling applications over a 10-year period does not withstand scrutiny when compared to police statistics. According to the police, in just four years, between 2018 and 2021, there were 149 live babies who were abandoned or dumped. That is more foundlings in just four years than in the entire period mentioned by Saifuddin.

READ MORE:  Bar strongly condemns regressive amendments to citizenship laws

Further, what is the methodology applied by Saifuddin?

Does his methodology take into account foundlings whose cases are now pending in courts?

Does it take into account those whose applications have been repeatedly rejected and have stopped trying?

Those who are prevented by poor education, poor literacy and fear of the government bureaucracy from even applying?

Those who are not able to produce any of the documents demanded by the National Registration Department to complete their applications due to loss, destruction or unavailability?

Those who have simply not approached the department at all due to ignorance of the law that they are not entitled to citizenship?

Did Saifuddin’s methodology take into account all these categories which activists and NGOs have been regularly encountering for decades in their work among the stateless? These are examples or categories which come from our actual experience in working in the community to resolve statelessness.

In sum, it is patently obvious that Saifuddin’s method is untenable both quantitatively and qualitatively. If what he says is correct, and people do not face any difficulties in applying for citizenship from the National Registration Department, there would not be so many stateless persons in the country, without identification papers at all or with green or red identify cards, although they were born in this country and are not citizens of any other country.

The figure of 98% approval claimed by the minister is inconsistent with the number of cases that are being seen in the country.

Hence, Saifuddin’s attempt to defend the controversial citizenship bill by claiming that the ministry has been approving the majority of applications is far-fetched, untenable and flies in the face of the experience of organisations that have been working on the problem for decades.

READ MORE:  Registration Department obstructed rights of stateless siblings despite promise to assist with citizenship

Finally, any stateless person will tell you about the mountain of challenges they face in getting their applications for citizenship approved, with many being unjustifiably rejected time and time again. They are out there, denied the benefits of citizenship, eking out a living on the margins of society. They are living proof of a system that has failed them.

Hence, the only right and decent thing for the government to do, is to withdraw those proposed amendments to the Constitution which remove the safeguards in Section 1(e) of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution and Section 19B.

N Surendran is the adviser to Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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