Man dies stateless after years of futile effort for citizenship

Sulang's wife holds the grave marker for her husband as other family members show the different types of ICs and MyKads they have, resulting from Sulang's unresolved statelessness problems.

KUCHING, Jan 20: The family of Sulang Entra stood at his funeral on Jan 14, saddened not just by his passing but also by the fact that he died stateless in the country in which he was born and had lived his entire life.

His citizenship problems have not just marred his own life but have also been passed down to his family, leaving his nine children and 63 grandchildren and great-grandchildren with their own different IC issues.

This is a family of many ‘colours’, with some issued MyKads, some with red ICs and some with green ICs, despite the fact that each of them has exactly the same family history.

This is why the family, supported by various NGOs including Sarawak For Sarawakians (S4S), Saya Anak Sarawak (SAS), Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), Borneo Indigenous People Pact (BIPP) and various organisations, are calling on the National Registration Department (JPN) to solve the issues facing this family immediately and to streamline its procedures and rectify any past errors in processing applications, for this case and for the many others in Sarawak.

Sulang’s son-in-law Michael Luang, when met at Sulang’s funeral in Kampung Tanah Mawang, Balai Ringin, Serian said: ‘On Jan 14, 2018, I buried my father-in-law, Sulang Entra. He died without a MyKad even though he was born in 1920 in Sarawak. He was among the pioneers for Kampung Tanah Mawang in Serian and its surrounding area.

“I was and still am filled with anguish, hurt and disappointment for the injustice he endured throughout his life despite his loyalty and dedication in providing a better life for his family.”

Sulang had tried on multiple occasions to obtain his rightful citizenship status. The last of these began in July 2016 when the 95-year-old, no longer able to walk, was carried into JPN at Simpang Tiga on the back of one of his children, accompanied by his 89-year-old wife, after a three hour journey from Balai Ringin.

The late Sulang at JPN Kuching being carried on the back of his son, during one of the former’s many trips to JPN to solve his statelessness problems. Photo taken in July, 2016.

Sulang was born in a time when documentation was non-existent. Unable to read or write and cut off from urban centres until a timber-track road came through in the 1980s, he had no documentation although he was eventually able to obtain a permanent resident card.

However, long delays of several years with processing applications at JPN — his last application was unresolved at the time of his death — meant that his children, all born in Sarawak, are also unable to obtain proper documentation.

More troublingly, with his wife in the same predicament, his children hold all colours of identification cards issued by JPN. Four of his children hold red ICs (permanent residency status), one green IC (non citizenship) and two MyKads while one holds a receipt for Temporary Identification papers.

This shows a total lack of consistency in the application of the procedures by JPN. It also is a clear indication of how these long delays in processing applications and the lack of responsiveness to the particular circumstances of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak can impact through the generations, causing issues for over 53 years of Malaysia.

“Why is it so hard for him (Sulang) to obtain his rightful citizenship but so easy for others?” Luang lamented.

“Is JPN really serious in addressing the issue of statelessness in my beloved Sarawak, or do they just wait until the applicant gives up after trying many times, or just withers and dies, like my father-in-law?”

Sulang being helped by his daughter during yet another trip to JPN. Photo taken in March 2017.

Three NGO representatives attended the funeral of the late Sulang held at his residence in Balai Ringin. Human rights activist Peter John Jaban, BIPP spokesperson Ismail Lumut, and SADIA’s resource person Bill Jugah, were saddened by the atmosphere since Sulang’s case is close to their hearts.

Bill said: “The case of Sulang shouldn’t have dragged on for so long. There were many others from this area who had successfully received their MyKads. Sadly, his was not forthcoming until his demise.

“After we had successfully assisted some applicants in the area around Kuching, Tebakang, Serian and Balai Ringin, we were contacted by many others facing similar issues of statelessness from Tubau, Bintulu, Mukah, Sibu and Miri. This shows that the issue of statelessness encompasses the whole state and needs an immediate remedy. We as NGOs are limited in resources and funds to assist these individuals who are genuinely in need.”

Peter John held a more sinister view on the issue of statelessness and urged for a more open-minded approach to the plight of the stateless.

“There are numerous cases in which innocent children are being punished for the perceived sins of their parents. The failure by a parent to properly carry out the registration process should not be visited on their children for the rest of their lives and from there onto their children’s children,” he said.

“There must be a way to alleviate the suffering of people who are stateless through no fault of their own. We have even seen cases of women forced into prostitution to make ends meet, who leave their infant children with their aged parents in longhouses and villages.

“While most should feel compassion for these women, some might feel it is their right to judge the actions of the mother. However, it cannot be right to judge the child who has no choice in the matter. These children mostly end up without identification documents because the grandparents are either ignorant of their importance or deem it too financially troublesome for them.”

Ismail alleged there were Pakistanis and Bugis living along the Bintulu-Miri road who arrived in Sarawak in the 1970s and worked in the cocoa plantations who given MyKads.

“We in Miri have received (reports of) many cases of statelessness. Most of the cases come from the surrounding timber camps in Miri division. It is hard to imagine that in this supposedly modern era, cases of statelessness are still aplenty.”

Sulang’s wife (seated) waits at JPN in Kuching.

Therefore, these NGOs are calling on JPN to step up efforts to settle Sulang’s and other genuine cases in a timely fashion.

“The procedures must be transparent and consistent, as well as responsive to the needs of these rural residents. The (government) taskforce has made great progress but it must be allowed to proceed with its work and, in fact, strengthened to allow these IC issues to be put in the past once and for all. Priority must be given to the genuine natives of Sabah and Sarawak before any applications by foreign nationals are processed,” said Dino Watson Ujah from SAS in a statement today. — DayakDaily