As we well know, the politics of statelessness is tied to the politics of race in this country.
It is unacceptable that the bugbear that was thrown into the Independence struggle to put the anti-colonial forces on the defensive - viz. who are the ‘pribumi' (indigenous people) and who are the ‘pendatang' (immigrants) and therefore not qualified for citizenship - continues to determine the political agenda in 2012.
We never fail to be bemused by the antics of BN government which gives out a few citizenship certificates to several erstwhile stateless Malaysians just before every election.
The media coverage of grateful beneficiaries hugging the benevolent home minister only adds to the parody.
We do not accept such tokenistic attempts to appease the stateless and we demand to know once and for all exactly how many stateless persons there are in this country?
The stateless cannot accept a fate in which they are doomed to wait in line for an election to arrive and hoping for a few lucky draws to bear fruit.
Race has played a key role in Umno's policy to reduce the number of non-Muslim voters and at the same time increase Muslim voters in order to maintain "Malay dominance".
East Malaysian leaders have alleged that 'project M' was implemented to ensure Filipino Muslims and Pakistanis were granted citizenship's in large numbers to dilute the non-Malay majority of Sabah.
In west Malaysia, Indonesians have for years been obtaining citizenship with relative ease compared with many Non-Malays who were born in Malaysia.
PKR and Hindraf have claimed that there are as many as 400,000 stateless Indians in this country while the MIC says that they have only registered 9,000 or so.
According to the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA), Malaysia, ‘Southeast Asia - Human Rights Watch' 2011:
"It is estimated that there are around 40,000 Indian children in the state of Selangor alone who do not have their birth certificates. Similarly, based on the number of cases we received at our 10 community centres from 2003 - 2006, we estimated that at least 20,000 Indian women do not have identity documents. These figures could be much higher if their children are taken into account. Therefore, they become ‘stateless' in their own country and as a result they been denied of protection and care as a citizen of the nation state, and thus vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."
What about the stateless Chinese and the stateless indigenous peoples in Sarawak and Sabah? We know that there are considerable numbers of them as well.
We therefore call on the government to set up a credible committee for citizenship registration with enough resources to solve the plight of the stateless once and for all.
This committee must be seen to be independent and professional. It is too important a task to be entrusted to any political party.
The Department of Statistics and the Registration Department should be involved in this exercise in order to give us the correct numbers of the stateless in the country.
Right to a nationality
Every person has the right to a nationality. Yet statelessness continues to be a fundamental cause of discrimination, exploitation, and even forced displacement.
The stateless have no legal protection or the right to participate in political process; poor employment prospects and poverty; little opportunity to own property; travel restrictions, and inadequate access to healthcare and education.
To date, only 57 states have become party to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and even fewer states, just 29, are party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
It is time for Malaysia to take the plight of the stateless seriously instead of treating them like a political football to score a few at a time during elections.
KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram Advisor.