Malaysiakini News

When citizenship is politicised

Eric Paulsen  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Of all the tragedies to befall the stateless community in Malaysia, perhaps the greatest one is that they are treated as little more than a political gimmick, a useful way to earn votes as election season swings around.

In May 2017, MIC President Dr S Subramaniam (photo below) announced the Mega MyDaftar campaign to reach out to undocumented citizens of Indian descent. The campaign ran from June 3 to 26, 2017, and received some 2,500 applications.

Whilst the initiative on its own is commendable, there are obvious questions to be asked.

Why was this project launched by the health minister and supported by MIC when citizenship registration exercise should be the mundane day-to-day job of the National Registration Department (NRD)?

The NRD should also be undertaking targeted or mobile registration from time to time without the need for a campaign backed by MIC – unless of course, the impression aimed for is that MIC can help the poor stateless Indian community to acquire citizenship documents.

When successful applications are processed, as seen from previous MyDaftar campaigns, there will be the glitzy photo ops with the prime minister flanked by the MIC president presenting citizenship documents to successful applicants.

Needless to say, this creates the impression that citizenship is something that is bestowed upon the applicants – by the government, and through the support of government political parties – when it should be a matter of a constitutional right, i.e., citizenship acquired by operation of law, and through the day-to-day dealings with the NRD.

Malaysian? Prove it

Denied the right to citizenship, many stateless individuals cannot access the basic rights and social services, including education and healthcare, that ordinary citizens enjoy or take for granted, despite being born and permanently residing in the country all their lives.

The battle for citizenship documentation for these people is long and arduous. It is not uncommon to begin this journey at childhood, and to emerge from it a young adult with all the lost opportunities. Without formal education, they are deprived of the possibility of proper employment in adulthood and relegated to menial labour and other odd jobs.

They live a life of exploitation and poverty, trapped and with no means to acquire a better living and existence. This status is passed on to the next generation: with stateless parents, children are also stateless, and the problem perpetuates across generations, all of which leads to serious social problems.

In Peninsular Malaysia, the descendants of many Indian plantation workers maintain the same stateless status as their ancestors, and so too their children to this day.

Indigenous peoples in Sarawak are also affected by statelessness, burdened by the high cost of repeated travel to the city when the NRD should be conducting mobile registration. Some are required to produce DNA test to prove their familial ties or to bring village chief from the interior to the city in order to attest their applications...

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