Now, what about stateless people?

Stateless people are unable to apply for government aid as they lack the necessary documentation. (Reuters pic)

Dear Malaysians,

Congratulations on making history on May 9 and placing Malaysia on the world map once again, this time for the right reasons. It is a truly proud moment for all of us.

I must, at this juncture of great joy, bring the plight of many poor Malaysians to your urgent attention. Even after 60 years of independence, their unjust suffering persists in our country. A large number of these Malaysians and their children are without citizenship papers, ICs and birth certificates.

Their only crime was that they had little education and no political voice to speak on their behalf. That is, until Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto highlighted the fact that this section of society existed, and that their suffering had been ignored and, worse still, exploited. Before that, no mention of them was made in Malaysia’s political circles. Many were aware of them but their interests lay elsewhere.

These Malaysians and their ancestors were great assets in the past, when our country benefited from their labour on rubber and palm oil estates, which helped generate foreign currency revenue from exports. The proceeds of this went to developing the initial phase of our beloved nation.

To correct this injustice, we need our government, enthused by Reformasi, to carry out a nationwide data collection/census of these afflicted Malaysians.

Their children are unable to attend school or become legally employed, or even married. Subsequently, their children also go unregistered and the cycle of suffering and injustice continues from one generation to the next. Worse still, they are unable to apply for aid from government agencies because they have no proof of citizenship.

Their state of poverty and desperation may not justify their involvement in gangsterism or theft in order to survive, but it is symptomatic of their dire circumstances.

I plead with you to give this matter the attention it needs for immediate action. Once these people are identified, there has to be an amnesty of sorts to give them the right to Malaysian citizenship. Many of them lost whatever paperwork they had when they were evacuated from their meagre dwellings in estates, to be replaced by cheaper labour from other countries.

The situation is difficult but real. Malaysians are in urgent need of help, which Pakatan Harapan has clearly identified as the number one promised item in its manifesto (page 132 in the English version, page 168 in the Bahasa Malaysia edition).

I appreciate that there are many pressing matters on the table for the new government, but things can be mobilised quite easily in this matter, and I am sure many Malaysians and NGOs would gladly come together and provide assistance.

Please act with urgency. No one would wish to spend even a single moment in such circumstances, let alone the decades these people have been enduring.

I thank you for you kind attention.

Ravi Balasingham is an FMT reader.

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