Don’t hold Roisah’s future hostage to government’s apathy

Roisah Abdullah (centre) scored very well in her STPM but may not be able to further her studies. (Twitter pic)

By Syerleena Abdul Rashid

When the plight of Roisah Abdullah first came to light earlier this month, like most Malaysians, I was shocked and appalled by how the system had failed her. Roisah scored very well in her STPM examinations, and getting into a university, let alone being offered a scholarship, should have been easy for her. Unfortunately, in the eyes of federal law, Roisah is categorised as stateless even though she was born and raised in Malaysia.

Since then, leaders from Pakatan Harapan (PH) have openly urged the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led federal government to stop ignoring the gravity of her situation. Initially, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi promised to meet her to assist with her citizenship application and gave assurance that approval would be expedited. However, in a cruel twist of events, she was told to “go home” and that the ministry would only “consider” her application.

This doublespeak, though not entirely shocking and even somewhat expected, is grossly dreadful and callous. The BN-led federal government has always boasted that it has the best interests of our future generations at heart. However, the treatment of 21-year-old Roisah proves just how apathetic it really is.

Education has been recognised as a human right, and one of the most basic building blocks needed to ensure that societies and nations are able to develop in line with democracy and social justice.

Globally, there are roughly 70 million children who at present have no access to education and are denied this fundamental right due to reasons that stem from disadvantaged backgrounds, the financial deficit of developing countries, lack of facilities, cultural barriers, war and other issues that a country like Malaysia clearly does not suffer from.

The discrimination faced by stateless persons is not new in this country and has been brought up all too frequently. However, the federal government’s apathy is dangerously damaging. The uncertainty and lack of legal status in Malaysia of those deemed stateless make them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, and susceptible to other forms of human rights violations such as being systematically denied access to education and health care.

According to reports, the National Registration Department’s move to turn down Roisah’s application for citizenship has left her stateless. Without proper documentation, the STPM top scorer will not be able to further her tertiary education. She will be unable to obtain a legal job and will be denied a bright future that could contribute to Malaysia’s development.

This unnecessary ping-pong bureaucracy is a blatant waste of time. The deadline to apply for the next intake at local universities through the Unit Pengambilan Universiti (UPU) system is April 10. There is not much time, and we are left counting the days that are filled with indifference and distrust. Until then, Roisah’s future continues to be at stake and at the mercy of this flawed system which continues to discriminate the have-nots of this country.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid is DAP Wanita national assistant publicity secretary.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.