PETALING JAYA: The Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) wants the deadline for citizenship applications of stateless children made through a special task force in the state to be extended beyond Dec 31.
Its central executive committee member Peter John Jaban said the indigenous communities there were appealing for the application process for identification documents to be extended as there were still too many children who had not yet been dealt with.
He said there were an estimated 290,437 stateless children currently without citizenship in Sarawak and the rest of the country.
“We would be glad to provide more input and data to the task force because there are still many cases of statelessness among the indigenous peoples, especially the schooling children,” he said in a statement today.
He thanked Sarawak Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Fatimah Abdullah for spearheading the task force and resolving many cases of statelessness among Sarawakians.
He said however there was a need for the process to be given more time.
The task force was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Sept 15, 2015 and headed by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Joseph Entulu Belaun, with a deadline to settle the problem by Dec 31 this year.
On Nov 5, Zahid, who is also home minister, said all applications already forwarded to the ministry by the Sarawak government were targeted to be resolved by Dec 1.
He said the government wanted to solve the problems of stateless children and individuals in Sarawak by September 2018.
“We are serious in resolving this long-standing issue, where some of the children born in Sarawak but not having the proper documentation cannot even go to school,” he had said.
“Even those aged above 21 now are having complications when applying for jobs.”
Meanwhile, Sadia resource person Bill Jugah said there were still cases of statelessness in areas where the National Registration Department (NRD) had yet to mobilise the task force, such as the SK Lubok Bedil school in Song district.
He said he was informed that most of the students there were without identification documents, while 14 pupils at SMK Balleh in Kapit were stateless as of June.
“There are about 80 students in SK Lubok Bedil while the status of the SMK Balleh students still remains unresolved, going by the recent announcement by (Deputy Chief Minister) Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing in taking up the case of three of the 14 students to the relevant authorities for follow-up,” he said.
Jaban also claimed he had received information that the NRD was withholding letters from the Sarawak Islamic Council (Mais) on individuals converted to Islam as children who had applied to leave the religion upon reaching adulthood.
“This is a grave concern where complications such as having difficulties in registering their marriages and not (being) able to live their lives and practise their preferred religions freely have arisen,” he said.
Last year, Jaban threatened to take the NRD to court for not recognising Adat (native customary) marriages and for allegedly destroying the birth certificate of a Bidayuh girl.