Let’s build solidarity with the many ‘Abang Adik’ in Malaysia

Let's reach out to the stateless people among us and connect them to the right people who can help them get the documentation they need


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On Sunday, 26 May, Aliran, in collaboration with the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (CRA) and Family Frontiers, and supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), organised a free screening of the award-winning movie Abang Adik in Penang.

Aliran sent out invitations for people to register for the movie about a month before the screening. We were pleasantly surprised to see that over 260 persons had registered by the eve of the screening. As expected, some did not show up on the day. But based on tickets issued at the cinema, at least 220 people turned up to watch the movie at the Prangin Mall Cineplex.

Aliran’s Evelyn Tang and John Fong at the ticket counter – DR NGO SHEAU SHI/ALIRAN

The film focuses on the trials and tribulations of two sworn ‘brothers’ – the elder in his early 30s and the younger in his mid-20s. Viewers find out they are not biological siblings but share a bond amid adversity. Both of them do not have identity cards, thus rendering them ‘undocumented’. Without identity cards, they have little choice but to take on low-paying jobs to earn a living.

The filmmaker promotes inclusivity by showcasing people of different ethnicities and religions. A fairly important role was assigned to a transgender person nicknamed ‘Money’, who acts like a mother-father figure to the brothers. At a funeral scene, a Christian hymn wafts in the air. At another poignant moment in the movie, the Muslim call to prayer echoes in the background.

This thought-provoking movie sends out a powerful message: that undocumented people in Malaysia – deemed to be “stateless” – are vulnerable and can be easily exploited.

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Several powerful scenes evoke emotions and by the end of the movie, many among the audience were left teary-eyed.

These tears were evidence that the movie had touched a chord even if the emotions may have been fleeting. What is critical is that more people need to be aware of and empathise with the struggles of the many stateless people in Malaysia.

At a panel discussion that followed the movie, Bina Ramanand of the MCRA and Family Frontiers recalled that a minister had said last April that the government had received 150,000 citizenship applications, of which 14,000 applications were processed last year. Another 14,000 are expected to be cleared this year.

These are not citizenship applications from foreigners but pertain to various categories of children of Malaysian parents or adopted parents. They also involve foundlings, including children of unknown parents, being brought up in welfare homes, who call Malaysia their home.

Remember, every stateless person is a fellow human being struggling for a more secure future. But they are unable to open bank accounts and find permanent employment because they are undocumented.

The first panel member, Lee Wee Seong of the Malaysia Stateless Alliance, shared his experience of registering his marriage to an Indonesian in Malaysia. Because the registration was done three weeks after their first child was born, it rendered the boy stateless. This led to a 12-year bureaucratic runaround before his son finally got his identity card.

Next up was lawyer Goh Siu Lin, a family and child rights lawyer. She highlighted how the Suria Kempe case prompted the government to propose a favourable constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, the amendment is bundled together with five regressive amendments that could worsen the problem of statelessness in Malaysia.  

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The final speaker was Siti Rahayu Baharin, fondly referred to as Cikgu Rahayu. She is the co-founder of Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, a safe learning centre that provides basic education for undocumented street children and orphans.   

Siti Rahayu talked about how the film’s producer, Lee Sin Jie (Angelica) – a famous actress and singer – had visited the school and was touched by the children’s plight. In all likelihood, Sin Jie would have drawn some inspiration for the movie from her immersive experience.

Many among the audience told us the movie was “a real eye-opener”.

We urge everyone who has seen the movie not to leave it at that. Let’s reach out to the stateless people among us and connect them to the right people who can help them get the documentation they need for a more secure life.

We owe this to these less fortunate people who have been deprived of citizenship, often through no fault of their own. Let us stand in solidarity with the stateless in Malaysia.

Once again, Aliran would like to thank the MCRA, Family Frontiers and the IOM for making the free screening of this movie possible. And special thanks to all of you who turned up to share this moving experience with us.

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.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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