PETALING JAYA: Educating citizenship applicants on the importance of seeking help early and expanding civil service organisations’ (CSOs) capacity on the ground are among key recommendations in a research report on stateless individuals released by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today.
The 347-page report, titled Human Rights and Statelessness in Peninsular Malaysia, is the result of a study commissioned in 2021.
Led by economist Melati Nungsari, the report assesses legal, policy, administrative, institutional frameworks, and processes that impact access to citizenship in Malaysia.
The report said that providing more training and funding to CSOs to continue outreach programmes could be an effective means to coaxing stateless populations, particularly those who do not trust the government, to apply for and gain citizenship.
It suggested improvements to the citizenship application process such as shortening waiting times, providing easy access to check on the status of applications, and increasing transparency surrounding the path to citizenship.
The report also called for timelines for the citizenship application process, including offering applicants who are rejected specific reasons why they were turned down so they can amend their future applications accordingly.
Suhakam also recommended the national registration department (JPN) employ more diverse front-facing staff at its offices, specifically of Malaysian Indian descent, as a large number of stateless cases are from this community.
It said that sensitivity and bias training need to be given to JPN officers who deal with registration, and civil servants at JPN should strive to take ownership over stateless cases and exercise compassion.
“Training should be increased for all government staff who deal with statelessness cases, specifically on protocols, required forms, and documentation,” it said.
It called on JPN to increase the number of visits they make to orphanages to identify stateless children and help them start and progress through the citizenship process.
Suhakam also said it was key that MPs do more to push for legal reform through the parliamentary system.
The commission recommended the abolition of the requirement that stateless children have to trace their parents who have abandoned them before they can receive citizenship.
It also suggested that the government set up a collaborative agency to deal with citizenship issues for stateless people, and that the policy that stateless children are automatically assigned a religious faith be abolished.
Public schools should not discriminate based on the legal status of children, it said, and should register children for schooling without requesting for documentation.
Another recommendation was to fast-track certain categories of statelessness for citizenship, specifically senior citizens holding red ICs (permanent residency).
Suhakam said citizenship should be prioritised for stateless individuals who can prove that they were born in Malaysia.
It said it was key that stateless groups be provided with temporary formal identification so they are able to access services such as public healthcare and pay subsidised local rates.
Citizenship applicants should automatically receive red ICs while waiting for their citizenship approval, it said, failing which they should be given temporary legal documents to allow them to work legally while their applications are being approved.
The report also called for better collaborations among government agencies to produce a comprehensive dataset containing information such as total number of stateless individuals and the number of stateless children within government-run shelters.
“This study found that government agencies still very much work in silos surrounding this issue, which ends up harming the community itself,” added the report.