UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees (Author)
Kuala Lumpur, 15 August 2018 - UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes the announcement by the Malaysian Government to expedite citizenship for all qualified stateless individuals in the country. The Malaysian Prime Minister announced yesterday that stateless Indian red IC holders over the age of 60 will be granted citizenship.
This is a positive step taken by the Government to fulfil its commitment to resolve statelessness among the Indian community within 100 days of being in office.
While the pledge was initially limited to the Indian stateless community, UNHCR also welcomes the Government’s decision to apply this across the board to include all other stateless persons who qualify.
“Stateless people have limited access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement. Without these things, they face a lifetime of obstacles,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative.
“By providing these people with citizenship, Malaysia is providing them the chance to fully participate in Malaysian society.”
Lakshmi*, 69 years old, is a stateless woman who has lived in Perak all her life. She was born at home, and had never obtained any birth documentation.
“I don’t know why I had no birth registration document when I was born. All my siblings had them, and they all have national identity cards. But at that time, we lived in the rubber plantation. You don’t need a birth certificate or an identity card,” said Lakshmi.
Lakshmi only holds a Red IC which does not confer citizenship.
“It makes me angry when they call me a foreigner. And it hurts me when they say, ‘Why are you fighting so hard to get a national identity card when you are already going to die.’ I am determined to get a national identity card and to have rights like a citizen of any country,” said Lakshmi.
The Goverment announcement is a positive example of political will to assist people in Lakshmi’s situation overcome barriers in applying for citizenship.
UNHCR estimates that there are at least 10 million people worldwide who are denied a nationality. Their problem often remains unseen and unheard, leaving them marginalised and invisible to the wider community.
In Malaysia, UNHCR and civil society members continue to work with, and support, the Malaysian Government to eradicate statelessness to ensure that everyone has a legal identity in line with SDG 16.9 “Legal Identity for All, Including Birth Registration".
*name changed to protect identity