Thursday, August 11

Home Ministry should assist stateless people, says Baru

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Baru Bian

LAWAS (Jan 20): The Home Ministry should be assisting stateless people in their applications to be recognised as Malaysian citizens, said Selangau MP Baru Bian.

He said it would be uncalled for if the ministry, which is part of the government, instead of assisting the stateless, let their applications go unanswered and eventually reject them without giving proper reasons.

“A government is supposed to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’. We need a better approach by the officers of government departments. Not every stateless person is able to have his or her case highlighted by the media and become a PR (public relations) opportunity for politicians, and many cannot afford to take their cases to court,” he said in a statement today.

He was commenting on the case of Sabah-born Wong Kueng Hui, who had been applying to become a Malaysian citizen since he was 12 years old.

Wong was born on Jan 2, 1995 at the Keningau Hospital in Sabah. His Malaysian father died when he was 10 while his stateless mother died when he was 17.

Baru welcomed the Court of Appeal’s decision yesterday that ruled Wong  as a Malaysian.

“It has been a long process for Wong, who first applied for citizenship under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution when he was 12.

“Having received no response from the Home Ministry, he reapplied and his second application was rejected. From what I read in the news report, it appears that there was a lack of response from the Home Ministry, and when they finally did respond, it was to reject Wong’s application without giving any reasons,” said Baru.

The Ba Kelalan assemblyman said the lack of response from the Home Ministry is not uncommon, having spoken to many people in similar situations.

“Stateless people are in their stateless status through no fault of their own, and suffer hardships that the rest of us do not even realise.

“Things that we take for granted, such as getting an education and a job, opening a bank account, getting a driving licence, buying a car or owning a property, buying an airplane ticket to fly and et cetera are almost impossible without an identity card.

“I hope the officers at the Home Ministry can be more responsive to the plight of this group of people, and that the government will take a more compassionate stand by not appealing the decision of the courts which favour the applicants. They have gone through enough heartache and anxiety,” he said.

Baru also pointed out the recent case involving Rohana Abdullah, who was abandoned by her Indonesian mother and was brought up by a Chinese teacher in the country.

He said Rohana had also been trying to apply for citizenship but did not receive any reply from the Home Ministry until her case was highlighted in the media.

Baru pointed out that there are also many in Sarawak who are in the same quandary as Wong and Rohana.

“Here, a large majority know who their parents are – the reason for their statelessness is that it was too difficult for their parents, who lived in remote places, to go to the nearest towns to register their births. Perhaps some were unaware of the need to do so.

“I have been assisting many in my area with their applications but the response has been slow also,” he said.

In Wong’s case, Baru, who is a lawyer himself, said both arguments by the government in the case were dismissed by the majority judgment, which he hoped would make the government review the way they assess applications for citizenships and be more open to approving such applications.

On the issue of citizenship of children born to Malaysian women overseas, Baru said it was recognised by the court in the recent case against the government by a group of Malaysian mothers that the right to citizenship is a fundamental liberty, and the provisions in the Federal Constitution must be interpreted harmoniously and purposively to prevent any provisions from being nugatory.

“Sections 1(b) and 1(c) of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution should be amended to include the mother as well as the father, as a prerequisite to citizenship. Otherwise it is a clear discrimination against the fairer gender, as was held by the court,” he said.