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Woman born to refugee parents in Pahang loses bid for citizenship

However, the Court of Appeal says she may still obtain citizenship by way of naturalisation if she fulfils the legal requirements.

3 minute read
Istana Kehakiman, which houses the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya. Photo: Bernama
Istana Kehakiman, which houses the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya. Photo: Bernama

A 35-year-old woman born in a refugee camp in Cherating, Pahang, to Muslim refugee parents from Cambodia lost her appeal in the Court of Appeal today to be declared a Malaysian citizen.

Azimah Hamzah’s appeal was dismissed by a three-member bench comprising justices Kamaludin Md Said, Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera and Gunalan Muniandy.

Vazeer Alam who delivered the court decision virtually said the court agreed with the High Court judge’s findings in concluding that Azimah was not a stateless person.

He said the appellate court did not find any error in the findings of the High Court which held that Azimah had failed to establish the burden of proof that she was not born a citizen of any country, adding that there was some evidence that her father was a Cambodian national at the time of her birth.

He added that the two provisions in the Federal Constitution – Article 14 (1)(b) and Section 1 (e) of Part II of the second schedule which would enable a person to obtain Malaysian citizenship – did not apply to Azimah.

Vazeer Alam said the court took note of the fact that Azimah’s parents and siblings had acquired Malaysian citizenship, and that Azimah had another option of getting citizenship by way of naturalisation under Article 19 of the Federal Constitution.

Azimah’s parents became permanent residents in November 1986 and obtained citizenship via Article 19 of the Federal Constitution in 2008. Her eldest sister who was born outside of Malaysia obtained citizenship through Article 15A of the Federal Constitution in 2008 under special circumstances while her four younger siblings became Malaysians after their parents obtain citizenship.

“We empathise with her predicament, but the door is not closed. It is still open to her to apply for citizenship by naturalisation if the legal requirements are met to the satisfaction of the authorities,” the judge said.

Azimah, who wanted to be recognised as a Malaysian, contended that she was a stateless person with no Cambodian citizenship and who had lived her whole life in Malaysia. However she did not succeed in her judicial review which was dismissed by the High Court in 2020, prompting her to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

She filed a judicial review application in 2019 naming the National Registration Department (JPN) director-general, the home ministry and the Malaysian government, seeking various court orders including a declaration to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen and for the issuance of a MyKad or citizenship certificate.

In another citizenship appeal, the same court bench ruled in favour of a 15-year-old girl born to a Malaysian father and a Filipino mother after dismissing the appeal by the home ministry secretary-general, the JPN director-general and the government of Malaysia.

In that case, the appellate court upheld the High Court’s decision granting citizenship to the Perak-born girl and ordered for a citizenship certificate and identification card to be given to her.

Gunalan, who read out the court’s verdict, said High Court judge Faizah Jamaludin was correct in her decision in May 2019 to grant citizenship to the girl by operation of law under Article 14(1) (b) of the Federal Constitution and ordered JPN to issue her an identification card.

The girl’s application to obtain citizenship was rejected as she was considered illegitimate because she was born before her parents’ marriage was registered.

The girl’s father had made several attempts to apply for his daughter’s citizenship but was unsuccessful, prompting him to file a judicial review in 2016.