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Dear home minister, the stateless are not 'migrants and others'

Lawyers for Liberty takes Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to task over his defence of proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution relating to citizenship laws.

Zaid Malek
3 minute read

We refer to the statement made by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail in Parliament yesterday in which he defended the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution relating to citizenship laws.
The proposed amendments, among others, are to amend the Second Schedule, Part II Section 1(e) that grants every stateless person born in Malaysia citizenship by operation of law, as well as Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b) which grants abandoned children citizenship by operation of law.
The proposed amendments aim to make the grant of citizenship the sole power of the home ministry instead of automatic for those who fulfil the requirements of the Second Schedule as it currently stands.
It is appalling that Saifuddin is obstinately defending the proposed amendments, callously ignoring the plight of the stateless and instead framing it as a security issue due to the country purportedly facing "problems involving migrants and others".
This in of itself, at best, shows a total lack of understanding by the home minister and, at worst, a deliberate misrepresentation of the issue of statelessness in the country. Those who are stateless deserve citizenship by operation of law as per the constitution but remain in the predicament due to the oversight and failure of the National Registration Department (JPN) and the home ministry to correctly administer the law.
The stateless are not "migrants and others"; they are Malaysian citizens unlawfully made stateless due to the actions and omissions of the government.
Most of the stateless cases referred to JPN are not resolved due to the very action of JPN in failing or refusing to facilitate the process of getting their citizenship recognised. Even the acquisition of Form E, the proper form for the confirmation of citizenship as per Section 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution, can scarcely be obtained without legal intervention.
JPN has also repeatedly refused to comply with the law in cases of abandoned children, even when the Federal Court in the case of CCH & Anor v Pendaffar Besar bagi Kelahiran dan Kematian, Malaysia, has clearly stated that abandoned children are entitled to citizenship under Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b).
JPN’s deliberate action of ignoring clear provisions of the law and obfuscating the citizenship process are the primary causes of the prolonged suffering of the stateless. They have missed out the opportunity to acquire education, access to healthcare and are unable to obtain gainful employment, condemned to a life in the margins of society due to their statelessness.
It is thus baffling that this government has chosen to worsen the statelessness problem with the proposed amendments instead of resolving it. The amendments will steal the constitutional guarantee of Malaysian citizenship from the stateless, eternally dooming them to be strangers in the only home they have ever known.
The introduction of the proposed amendments also entirely ignores the legislative history regarding citizenship. The constitution at Merdeka applied the principle of jus soli, allowing everyone born on Malaysian soil to acquire citizenship. Though it was later amended, our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was cognisant of the statelessness problem and introduced safeguards to ensure that no one would be rendered stateless. The safeguard has remained in our constitution, now in the form of Section 1(e) Part II of the Second Schedule.
As such, we urge the government to see reason and return to the spirit of the constitution that acknowledges the rights to citizenship and its assurance that no one would be made stateless within our shores. Withdraw the proposed amendments unequivocally and without delay. The stateless have suffered enough at the hands of the government and should be accorded the right that the Constitution has guaranteed them all this while.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.