KOTA KINABALU: An NGO yesterday called on the state government to consider recognising the hundreds of thousands of stateless people in Sabah as citizens.
Persatuan Kebajikan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Pekida) Sabah president Datu Akjan Datu Ali Muhammad said giving citizenship to such people would solve the problem that had affected the state for more than four decades.
“I don’t know whether it is true that there are 800,000 stateless people in the state as reported by the media, but I can personally guarantee there are at least 100,000 of them who were unfairly registered as stateless in Sabah,” he said in a press conference here.
Most of these people, he said, were born to at least one Malaysian parent but were made stateless by the National Registration Department (NRD), whether the Sabah branch or the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya.
He said their statelessness prevented them from gaining legal employment or formal education, and caused them to live in constant fear of the authorities.
“While we welcome and fully support the state government’s plan to address the severe shortage of oil palm workers in plantations, priority should be given to these stateless people when it comes to job recruitment,” he said.
Akjan, who is also adviser for the Suluk Sabah Mixed Blood United, said the state government should not “reward” illegal immigrants by giving them documents after they broke immigration rules.
Instead, he said, the government should address the problem of stateless people and give them a chance to contribute to the state’s economic activities.
“Many of these people became stateless through no fault of their own. Just because of late registration, the officers in the NRD declare them stateless. That’s why there are many natives in the interior of Sabah who are stateless.”
He also claimed that there were instances where NRD officers declared individuals as non-citizens because they were Suluk or Bajau.
Stateless people are generally divided into two categories: those who are documented, such as those with IMM13 or birth certificates, or refugees with identification papers from the Chief Minister’s Department; and those who are undocumented and do not possess any documents at all.
Efforts to send these people back to their perceived countries of origin such as the Philippines and Indonesia have been futile as neither government recognises them as citizens.
Stateless people have to pay higher medical fees and are treated like foreigners when seeking medical treatment at government hospitals.
Akjan claimed he had even received complaints that these people faced constant harassment from rogue enforcement personnel out for some extra income.
“Even Rela members dare to come to these stateless people’s homes under the pretence of getting rid of illegal immigrants, and end up ‘robbing’ the residents – they take their bracelets, watches, everything,” he said.
Akjan also expressed concern over the fate of stateless children who are not allowed to attend public schools.
“What can they do? They are illiterate. They can’t get jobs, but they must continue living. So many turn to crime and in the end, we will have a lot of social problems,” he said.
He said he hoped the new government would be more sensitive to the problem, adding that it now had a chance to make things right.
“We are ready to assist both the federal and the state governments to resolve this problem, such as to identify and to locate them (the stateless people).
“We are also prepared to provide them with the necessary skills training to make them employable, besides helping them secure suitable jobs.”
He added that Pekida Sabah would be submitting a memorandum soon to urge the state government to address the issue once and for all.