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Stateless children with genuine, effective link should be recognised as citizens — Lawyers for Liberty

MARCH 17 — Lawyers for Liberty urgently calls on the government to relook at its citizenship policies that have rendered thousands of rightful Malaysians as stateless. The two decisions at the Court of Appeal on March 16, 2017 have unfortunately reaffirmed the government’s arbitrary and discriminatory approach to recognising citizenship of stateless Malaysians including children with genuine and effective link to the country.

There are no good reasons why these two children with genuine claims to citizenship should continue to be stateless when the government from time to time accords citizenship to foreigners or when the government grants citizenship to stateless cases when they are supported by government political parties.

The government and unfortunately the court in these two cases have placed an almost impossible burden on the stateless children to prove they are not citizens of other States when they should have a right to citizenship by operation of law under the Second Schedule, Part II, Clause 1(e) of the Federal Constitution that states that “every person born within the Federation who is not born a citizen of any other country” are citizens.

By holding stateless applicants to standards of proof that are practically impossible to meet would defeat the original protective intent of the citizenship clause, i.e. to prevent statelessness. The government should respect the statelessness safeguard in the Federal Constitution by taking into account the practical realities and constraints the applicants would face in trying to trace their lineage, all the more so if they were abandoned as children.

The right to citizenship is universally recognised as a fundamental human right and it is a precondition to enjoying other basic rights and services. Statelessness severely curtails the individuals’ life chances and well-being despite being born and permanently residing in the country all their lives. That is a fact the government should not ignore.

Stateless individuals are unable to access education, health care, employment and business, housing, social security, freedom of movement — all of which leads to serious social problems. They would not be able to open a bank account or even register a mobile telephone line as having a MyKad is the prerequisite to many basic services and facilities. Furthermore, they will be unable to register their marriage and will likely pass their stateless status on to their children, thus creating an intergenerational cycle of statelessness.

There is a serious lack of concern by the government and its agencies on these issues. There is no genuine effort to register the affected communities nor is there any special procedure to facilitate their registration despite knowing the context of the individual cases as in the two children applicants. These applications are usually hampered by administrative obstacles, burdensome requirements, long delays and require repeated visits, and eventually, rejection.

Lawyers for Liberty calls on the government to take immediate steps to rectify the serious statelessness problem especially affecting children. These stateless cases should be registered under the proper procedure for nationals, through a simplified application procedure and documentation requirement, instead of placing an unrealistic burden on them to prove their citizenship.

* Press statement issued by Eric Paulsen, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty on March 17, 2017.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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