Aldridge John Billones considers himself a Malaysian but years of waiting for citizenship only to have his application rejected has left him pessimistic about his prospects.
PUCHONG: Aldridge John Billones, 28, has lived in Malaysia his entire life and considers himself a native, born and bred here.
However, his papers do not reflect this. Aldridge, like many in his hometown in Sabah, is a stateless person.
Aldridge’s family lost most of their documentation in a flash flood that washed away much of their home when he was a child. His parents’ marriage certificate, which he needs to apply for a Malaysian identity card or MyKad, went missing as well.
When Aldridge was in primary school, his family moved to the peninsula from Silam, Sabah. Although he had a slip from the National Registration Department (NRD) stating that his application for citizenship was pending, the faded paper was not enough to save him from the taunts of teachers and peers alike, who teased him for not having a MyKad.
Other problems emerged towards the end of his secondary school career, as students are not allowed to sit for the SPM examination without a MyKad. He was also briefly denied entry into school and missed a year’s worth of classes because he did not have his papers.
Speaking to FMT in an interview here, Aldridge said waiting for a citizenship appeal to go through was costly. The bulk of the cost came from the constant trips back and forth from his home in Shah Alam to Putrajaya.
Eventually, he was given a temporary document which allowed him to sit for SPM. He was also allowed entry into school after months of discussions with the education ministry.
He and his two siblings, who are in the same boat, applied for citizenship in 2008. After two years, his siblings were granted citizenship but Aldridge was told that his application had been rejected.
“I was the only one that was stuck,” he said, adding that his rejection letter, which in his anger he tore up, did not explain why.
“I was devastated. My future was finished. What was I going to do after that?”
Statelessness is a common issue for many in Sabah, most of whom are of Filipino and Indonesian descent, or are members of the indigenous tribes in the state.
Under state laws, being born in Sabah or Sarawak does not automatically make a person a permanent resident or citizen unless one parent is Malaysian.
There are said to be some 800,000 stateless people in Sabah, who live in remote parts of the state and are always on the lookout for immigration authorities.
Aldridge said he had been detained before while in Sabah due to his lack of a MyKad. He has also been stopped and questioned by the police during roadblocks here in the peninsula. Whenever this happens, he shows them proof of his pending application and is usually able to get off with nothing more than a few rough words and glances.
After completing secondary school, Aldridge took up odd jobs wherever he could to make ends meet. These ranged from manual labour or petty jobs such as fixing pipes and helping out at construction sites. None of these has lasted very long.
“After about a week or so, they tell me to leave because I don’t have a MyKad. So I have no choice. It’s very hard,” he told FMT. “Even if I wanted to further my studies, I wouldn’t be able to.
“It really is difficult,” he added. “Imagine getting by without a bank account or a driving licence.”
If he had been given Malaysian citizenship, Aldridge said, he would have liked to study tourism management or business.
Several years after his application for citizenship was rejected in 2010, he tried his luck at the NRD again. This time, he was advised by NRD officials to consider applying for a Filipino passport. This would be easier, they said.
Both Aldridge’s parents are of Filipino descent. His father is legally certified as a Malaysian, but his mother still uses a Filipino passport.
However, Aldridge said he had no interest in doing this as he considered himself Malaysian. “This is my home,” he said.
He told FMT that Putrajaya “passed him around like a ball”.
“(They told me to) go here and go there, (like) go (to the) immigration (and) go to the Philippines embassy to get a Filipino passport, but I didn’t want it.
“Try and understand our situation; don’t just reject us,” he said. “Think about our lives. Most of us are underage. It’s very difficult for us.”
He has not applied for citizenship since.
He now works for a friend whom he says understands his situation and wants to help him. He moved out of his family home after finishing secondary school, saying it felt awkward to continue staying there.
Although Aldridge appeared to have given up, he said there was new hope now with Pakatan Harapan (PH) in power. He is hopeful that the promised revamps by Putrajaya will see things change for the better, citing Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching’s recent announcement that her ministry would simplify the process for children without citizenship to enrol in public schools.
Beginning next year, they need only produce their birth certificates, adoption papers or court orders to register at government schools, as opposed to the previous practice for stateless children and those of economic migrants.
“I think there can be change now with the new government,” Aldridge said. “There is a systemic change. And I hope this extends to the people, so they can understand how we suffer and how they can help.
“I am optimistic about getting citizenship from the PH government.”
It will take at least three years if he begins the application process again, and he says this will be his last attempt. If he fails again, he will take up a Filipino passport.
“I can’t stay like this forever. I’m ready to face the wait and the going back and forth as long as I get it.”