KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is home to at least 800,000 stateless people, according to a coalition of NGOs which is concerned that the number will keep increasing over the next 20 years.
Most of the stateless people live in remote places and many are children of indigenous people, such as the Rungus, Murut and Dusun, said the coalition’s head Nani Sakam.
“Whenever we talk about stateless people, there is public opinion that all of them are children of illegal immigrants. But that is not necessarily true,” he told FMT. “From our research, the majority of these people are undocumented because their parents did not bother to register them or it was just due to ignorance,” he said.
The coalition comprises 21 associations representing various native ethnic groups, including Dusun, Tidong, Orang Sungai, Bugis, Murut and many others.
All associations in the coalition had agreed to collect sample data in each of Sabah’s five residencies by July 30. Nani said he would present the findings to the state government and hold discussions on solutions.
Nani said the associations had told him that they have thousands of members who have problems with documents. Some have birth certificates but are not regarded as citizens though born to Malaysian parents who have since died. Their status remained that of a stateless person.
“We are looking at a possible million stateless people in the next couple of years. These people will not have an education. They cannot be employed. Yet they multiply and they have to survive. Many will eventually resort to crime to get money,” he said.
The power to decide on citizenship lies in the hands of the chief minister and the federal home minister.
“Some people say we are enabling these illegal immigrants. That is not true. These people are mostly locals. They can contribute to the economy. If the government cannot give them MyKad, then give them a personal identification document so they can be employed.”
He urged the federal government to consider loosening or doing away with law on the late birth registration. “We have many late registrations because of geographical problems and poverty. If there is no fine for late registration, the problem of stateless people would not be so bad.”