How to reduce stateless numbers in Sabah

There are many stateless children in Sabah of Filipino or Indonesian descent who are unable to access basic rights like education and healthcare.

PETALING JAYA: A human rights NGO has urged the government to grant citizenship to every stateless child in Sabah who has a Malaysian parent, even if the other parent is a foreigner and if the child was born out of wedlock.

Denying citizenship to stateless children means denying them basic rights like education and healthcare which, in turn, means denying them the opportunity to do good for society, according to the founder of Advocates for Non-discrimination and Access to Knowledge (ANAK), Anne Baltazar.

Speaking to FMT, Baltazar also called for the removal of citizenship requirements not listed in the Federal Constitution.

ANAK provides paralegal advice and aid to stateless children and conducts research on statelessness, a condition suffered by many people in Sabah who are of Filipino and Indonesian descent as well as many members of tribes native to the state.

“Stateless children are just like other children in Sabah,” Baltazar said. “They are deeply embedded in familial and social networks and have the desire to live decent, normal lives.

“However, children who are stateless or who are refugees face a hard time accessing affordable education and healthcare, among other basic rights.”

She cited the case of Arly Mai Geanga, an academic achiever who could not get an identity card despite having been born at the Lahad Datu Hospital in Sabah.

Arly’s father is a Malaysian while her mother is a Filipino who is currently applying for permanent residence. Arly is seeking citizenship so that she can further her studies and find work.

Baltazar also spoke of the Peninsular Malaysia case of Roisah Abdullah. The stateless 20-year-old was recently in the news when she couldn’t enter university despite her excellent STPM results.

Roisah was born in Klang. Her mother is a foreigner, but no information is available about her father.

The publicity on her plight resulted in a promise from the higher education ministry to secure citizenship for her and an offer of enrolment at a local university.

Baltazar said stateless people lived in constant fear of being arrested. “I remember meeting a stateless child in a coffee shop, around nine years old, who froze with fear at the sight of a policeman.”

She urged public institutions and private bodies to participate in the quest for ways to help all stateless children gain access to basic education to keep them off the streets.

“If we give them opportunities and access to basic rights like education and healthcare, there is a greater possibility that they’ll grow up to be functioning, contributing members of society,” she said.

Nearly two years ago, Likas assemblyman Junz Wong urged the Sabah government to allow stateless people to join the work force, saying dependence on foreign workers could thus be reduced.

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