Tackle stateless people issue now, lawyers’ group tells govt

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PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) says the government must re-look its citizenship policies to address the issue of statelessness, especially among children.

Saying some policies had rendered thousands of rightful Malaysians stateless, the human rights group hit out at what it called “a serious lack of concern by the government and its agencies on these issues”.

“There is no genuine effort to register the affected communities, nor is there any special procedure to facilitate their registration despite knowing the context of the individual cases,” LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said in a statement today.

He added that applications were usually hampered by administrative obstacles, burdensome requirements and long delays. The people in question were also required to make repeat visits, eventually leading to rejection.

The group’s statement follows a Court of Appeal decision yesterday, dismissing separate bids for citizenship by two boys born in Malaysia.

The court ruled that a six-year-old and a teenager had failed to prove they were stateless or were not citizens of other countries.

Paulsen said the government and the court had placed “an almost impossible burden” on the two boys to prove they were not citizens of other states.

He said they should have the right to citizenship by law, quoting the Federal Constitution which states that “every person born within the Federation who is not born a citizen of any other country” is a citizen.

Paulsen said holding stateless applicants to impossible standards of proof would defeat the original intent of the citizenship clause to prevent statelessness.

He added that the government should respect this safeguard by considering the practical realities and constraints faced by applicants who had to trace their lineage.

Stateless individuals are denied access to education, healthcare, employment and business, housing, social security and freedom of movement, he said.

They would not even be able to register their marriages, and would likely pass their stateless status to their children, creating a cycle of statelessness.

“There are no good reasons why these two children with genuine claims to citizenship should continue to be stateless when the government from time to time accords citizenship to foreigners, or when the government grants citizenship to stateless cases when they are supported by government political parties,” Paulsen said.

He called on Putrajaya to take immediate steps to address the problem, suggesting that such cases should be registered under the proper procedure for nationals.

This would be done through a simplified application procedure and documentation requirement instead of placing “unrealistic burdens” on the individuals, he said.