One-year window for stateless individuals lauded but NGO says SOPs need review

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PETALING JAYA: An expert in statelessness has lauded a decision by the home ministry to grant a one-year window for any stateless person to apply for citizenship with the National Registration Department (JPN).

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However, he said there were many challenges preventing the stateless and undocumented from proceeding with their citizenship application, such as language barriers and literacy challenges.

In a statement, Saravanan M Sinapan, the president of Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, Malaysia (DHRRA), said that these barriers often hampered their understanding of application procedures and would prevent them from performing during the language interview conducted by JPN.

Aside from this, Saravanan said the stateless also faced problems providing supporting documents required for their application, as some had missing or damaged documents, inconsistencies in their details, and even typos in their birth certificates.

He said JPN’s existing SOPs, which require the stateless individual to bring forward two witnesses who were at least 15 years older to initiate late birth registration was also a challenge for those who were born before independence.

He said his NGO had also found a growing number of stateless children in the country during a mapping exercise carried in 2014 to quantify the number of people affected by statelessness in Peninsular Malaysia.

Saravanan said this could be due to existing gender discriminatory provisions in the national law, and also ambiguity in citizenship application for foundlings as well as adopted children.

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“Despite possessing and submitting the required supporting documents to JPN, many still are not deemed entitled to acquire citizenship status,” he said, adding that some had to reapply three to four times over a period of several years before being finally recognised as a Malaysian citizen.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin during his wrap-up speech during the committee stage of the 2021 Budget for the home ministry urged stateless individuals who have not registered with the JPN to do so as soon as possible.

“We got our independence in 1957 but I have some who are 63-years-old coming and telling me they still don’t have their citizenship.

“There is no logic in this, so I will give them one year, for everyone, with proper documentation and evidence to register so we can consider them as legal citizens, ” he said.

However, Saravanan said not possessing proper documentation and evidence for citizenship application were not the only factors preventing the stateless from being granted citizenship.

Therefore, he said the DHRRA has urged the government to take immediate steps in understanding and addressing the challenges faced by the stateless population in submitting and proceeding with their citizenship application, including a review in JPN SOPs regarding citizenship.

He added that other stakeholders should also be involved to offer alternative solutions to the existing challenges faced by the community. – FMT

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