Plight of stateless people during MCO

There is one group of people whose plight has not been properly addressed during the movement control order (MCO), enforced to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. They are former residents of the nation’s orphanages, many of whom are considered stateless.

Without any supporting documents to identify them, stateless people are denied access to government aid. Many of them live a hand-to-mouth existence. The MCO and the closure of many small businesses have cut their usual means of income, which involves casual labour.

Most earn RM15 to RM20 a day. The rest of the country is largely unaware of their predicament.

Muhammad Khairul Hafiz is the president of an NGO called Welfare and Social Organisation (Perbak), which looks after the interests and well-being of former residents of orphanages.

He has lodged a nationwide appeal for help and would like to know how these people can apply for government aid under the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) and the Welfare Department (JKM) food basket.

Khairul says the authorities should help the group, who lacks skills and education, and does not know how to apply for aid.

He says immediate help is needed for a group of 278 stateless adults, registered with his NGO, who have been deprived of a daily income because work is unavailable during the current lockdown.

He urges the government to provide funds for stateless children who are still in orphanages to help ease their burden.

In the government’s recent “rakyat caring” stimulus package, known as Prihatin, immediate assistance is provided to needy Malaysians, and businesses are supported in an effort to strengthen the economy.

And in an additional stimulus package, starting on April 1, members of the armed forces, the immigration and customs departments, the civil defence force, Rela and police are to receive a monthly allowance of RM200.

Students in higher education institutions will also receive a one-off payment of RM200 in May.

Small and medium-sized industries (SMEs) will be able to apply for help when the RM4.5 billion aid, in the form of five initiatives, is made available.

The problem of stateless people, however, has not been resolved despite the intervention of successive governments.

Nationwide, there are around 500,000 stateless people. They do not have identity cards and have no citizenship, even though one parent may be a Malaysian citizen. Some are the children of refugees, others are children who were abandoned at birth, illegitimate or orphans.

The lack of proper paperwork means they are denied access to healthcare, government aid, schooling, higher education, housing and other incentives. Without documents, they cannot open a bank account, travel overseas, get married or seek legitimate employment.

The stateless are marginalised, discriminated against, and often abused, both physically and sexually. They are taken advantage of because they do not exist, at least on paper.

It is hoped that in the week before Ramadan, Khairul’s appeal will reach Putrajaya and the stateless people will be given the aid, which they need.

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

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