Let state officials help review citizenship procedures, says activist

Karen Shepard is with Solidarity Anak Sarawak. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The home ministry has been urged to make deep-seated changes to its procedures for dealing with citizenship applications so that cases of statelessness are curbed.

Karen Shepherd of Solidarity Anak Sarawak welcomed an announcement that the ministry would prepare new guidelines for handling citizenship applications, particularly on registration of wives and children of citizens.

A shorter application period would benefit those seeking citizenship “as they would not be forced to wait for years for their rejection letters, as has been the case so far,” she said. However “it won’t help other applicants who are unable to comply with the stringent application requirements that do not recognise some of their unique circumstances,” she said.

She said the Sarawak branch of the National Registration Department and other state agencies such as Majlis Adat Istiadat, as well as NGOs and other experts should all be involved in reviewing the procedures.

She said there had been little understanding of the circumstances of Sarawak natives, especially Adat and customary law.

“Unsystematic and tedious” processes should be removed, she said.

The government should also question why so many applicants did not meet current citizenship requirements. “The home minister must seek to understand why so many genuine natives of Sarawak are being denied in the first place. Only then can the problem truly become a thing of the past.”

Madeline Berma.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner and rural expert Madeline Berma said a shorter period for citizenship applications might not benefit stateless people “because the problem is rooted in a lack of awareness, and accessibility to the registration facilities”.

Lawyers for Liberty director Melissa Sasidaran said the existing citizenship application process is burdened with bureaucratic red tape, resulting in repeated rejections with no explanation. Some people with a right to citizenship were left in limbo and made to suffer the consequences of statelessness due to incomplete documents.

Melissa Sasidaran.

Those who have had their applications rejected must be given the necessary assistance and understanding to help them acquire citizenship if they were found to have a genuine link to the country.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said the government should also provide reasons when applications are rejected. A clear guideline was needed because many whose applications have been turned down do not know why.

He also suggested that the government work with NGOs to ensure that applications are supported by proper documents.