Resolving the legal limbo of statelessness

Resolving the legal limbo of statelessness

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

The sounds and rhymes of lagu Negaraku flow a serene yet thrilled charms through the veins of the rakyat. Irrespective of age, race, religion, or political affiliation, the moment the rakyat start chanting “Negaraku, tanah tumpahnya darahku …”, it resonates in their heart.

On the Merdeka day or elsewhere among the crowd there are always some who are not one of the rakyat – they are foreigners. They have come to serve the nation from somewhere else, and perhaps for their own needs too. These “foreigners” who join the chanting lagu Negaraku do not feel abandoned. Rather they too cherish lagu Negaraku while they adore their own national anthem in their heart.

Yet there are others in the crowd who might have no lagu Negaraku to sing. They do not belong to any nation. They are unable to claim their national identity. They are “stateless”.

Albeit lagu Negaraku from other nations flows in their veins too, but not with thrills and charms. Or perhaps the lagu pervades their veins with pains and melancholy.

Pain and predicament of a stateless person is beyond chanting a national anthem. They face challenges to access facilities for education, health care, or even and often basic human rights. They are unable to open a bank account, travel abroad, and book a hotel even if they want to travel inside the national boundary they are living in.

Sadly, the majority of those who become stateless are not their own doing. Yet the bitter truth they carry every moment in their life, “they don’t belong to this civilized humane world”. Neither they are supposed to stay in the country they roam around nor they are able to leave the country.

According to the UNHCR estimation there are at least 10 million people in the world who are stateless. Nearly a million people are stateless in Côte d’Ivoire. Another million stranded stateless people live in Bangladesh with identity as Rohingya. Elsewhere in the world the number of stateless aliens is achingly burdensome. An estimated number of stateless mortals in Thailand is half a million, in Germany it is 126,000 and in Malaysia their number is more than 100,00.

A citizen of a nation may become a stateless alien because of wars imposed on them, occupation of their land by others, or violence against their tribe or race. Or a child might be born with a parent who is trapped amidst the legal dilemma hence failing to claim a national identity. Eventually they start their life as stateless aliens.

The UNHCR and different human rights watch groups came up with definition and categorisation of stateless persons. Whatever the man-made cause made them stateless, again, another set of man-made laws compels them to remain stateless. According to the UNHCR, statelessness in situ is often the result of the framing and implementation of nationality laws in different countries.

Under international law, a person not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law is considered de jure stateless. On the other hand, a person is considered de facto stateless if they have a nationality and are outside the territory of their country of nationality but are unable to seek the protection of that country.

Ironically, the classification of “stateless” without any identity and identification is an infringement of Article 8 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

If interpreted differently, a recent parliamentary discussion by the Ministry of Home Affairs, would mean that Malaysia has no stateless person since none could have entered Malaysia without a valid travel document. Again, referring to those who are born in Malaysia and remain stateless could be linked to that individual’s biological parents’ marriage status and citizenship status at the time of birth, the parents’ attitude of not caring about registering their children’s birth, as well as factors related to the distance and access to NRD’s office to record birth registration.

Hence, the reality is there are stateless people in the country. Besides, many of those who entered Malaysia with legal documents such as the Rohingyas perhaps will never be able to go back to their country of origin.

What will happen to them? Or how long do they have to wait before something happens that would enable them to feel a belongingness somewhere on this planet earth?

While there are proposed solutions and efforts of many kinds to resolve this humanitarian crisis all over the world, yet the number of stateless aliens is increasing every day. Not because of any divine decree but due to some human actions such as the greed of the warlords and the political mileage of bureaucratic corrupted policy makers.

On one hand, ambitious mankind is exploring and building homes in outer space or increasing heights of the high-rise buildings. On the other hand, millions live with the agony of lack of their identity.

Is it really difficult to resolve the problem of “statelessness”? No, it is not! All it needs is for the warlords and bureaucratic corrupted policy makers to realize that those stateless aliens are no less human than them.

Amidst the global uncertainty for the stateless aliens, the current Home Minister, Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail is committed to resolve an estimated number of 150,000 citizenship applications in Malaysia.

Let the tough get going at its full pace.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]


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