SUARAM: Sarawak needs to do more to solve statelessness issue

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.

KUCHING, June 19: The government has set up numerous task forces to tackle the statelessness issue in Sarawak but the problem remained prevalent, even though there is no official figure on the number of individuals involved.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), in a special feature on Sarawak in its ‘Malaysia Human Rights Report 2017: Civil and Political Rights’ publication, listed a few cases to demonstrate the plight of undocumented Sarawakians.

One example involved Tudan Methodist Church’s learning centre in Miri, where it was reported in August last year that dozens of stateless Penan children were receiving educational support there. The person-in-charge who assisted these children to get documentation bemoaned that it took months, sometimes years, to contact the witnesses and to bring them to the National Registration Department (NRD) to make witness statements.

The travelling cost to the NRD and to have a DNA test to prove each child’s relation to both parents cost about RM3,000, which is a huge financial burden for those involved.

Another case was reported in January this year. It involved Sulang Entra, an Iban from Balai Ringin. He passed away stateless at the age of 96 despite being born and having resided in Sarawak his entire life. His citizenship problem left his nine children and 63 grandchildren and great-grandchildren with identity card issues.

“Risks faced by vulnerable undocumented Sarawakians range from obstacles accessing facilities or services such as healthcare, welfare, education, employment, and voting rights, to more extreme risks of trafficking and risks of enforced disappearance. Statelessness not only affects one generation but continues on to subsequent generations, rendering entire families uncertain of their future,” stated the report.

Despite setting up a temporary special task force on stateless children in 2015, a second one the following year, and another in 2017, human rights activists working with such communities continued to raise concerns over this ad-hoc and lackadaisical approach by the government.

Concerns highlighted by these activists included a lack of publicity from the government task force to rural communities and the arbitrary and selective nature of government registration drives.

“SUARAM is concerned that not enough has been done by the state government to reach out to the many rural communities in Sarawak, where statelessness is particularly prevalent. If there is no systematic, streamlined approach to registration and outreach programmes have their own modus operandi, then the far-reaching problems will continue to negatively impact a growing population of stateless Sarawakians,” said the report.

Concerned about this, SUARAM urged the state government to proactively reach out to all rural communities in the state to ensure all stateless individuals are granted their fundamental right to Malaysian citizenship. — DayakDaily