SPECIAL REPORT | Sarawak prides itself as a state that has kept away undocumented migrants, but in its own backyard, many of its natives are stateless.
This is especially the case for the Penans, who for generations have faced obstacles in obtaining citizenship, in part due to excessive bureaucracy.
The issue is complicated by their nomadic culture and compounded by rural poverty, limited Bahasa Malaysia literacy, and inability to afford the luxury of travel to National Registration Department (NRD) offices in town.
The Penans are the last nomadic indigenous people residing mostly in Baram, Belaga, and Ulu Limbang, located more than 200km from Bintulu via rural roads.
In 2010, the State Planning Unit estimated 77 percent of Penans have settled permanently, 20 percent were semi-nomadic, while three percent are nomads.
Those living in the heartlands of Sarawak do not possess birth certificates, any identification papers, or MyKads.
The Penan Affairs Department of the Sarawak Planning Unit says there were 21,367 Penan in 2019. But most of them do not have any form of identification papers to denote they are citizens, let alone enjoy the benefits of being classified as bumiputera.
This despite their culture and practices being commodified when promoting Sarawak and Malaysia as a travel destination.
Walking for hours to register
Peng Magut lives in Long Tevanga, a village at the border between the Limbang and Baram districts.
The terrain is beautiful, punctuated by the cool mountain air. But the village has no electricity, no running water, much less an Internet connection.
And without the luxury of owning a vehicle, for Peng and many others like him, it is a costly outing from the village.
Travel is expensive as there are no buses or taxis. It costs RM1,800 to charter a private four-wheel vehicle for the drive from Miri to the Baram interiors.
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