Stateless Indians

December 12th, 2012 by poobalan | View blog reactions Leave a reply »
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What is statelessness? It means you are not tagged to a nationality (country), or in other words, you are not a citizen of any country. You may be given a status of permanent residents, but that’s not the same as being a citizen.

There are many figures being bandied about on the number of stateless Malaysians of Indian origin in Malaysia. Ranging from a small 9000++ (result of MyDaftar forms taken) to 450,000 (estimation by Hindraf based on Khir Toyo’s statement of 40,000 stateless Indians in Selangor itself, back in 2008). Pakatan Rakyat in recent times is saying there’s about 300,000 of them, which is based on some hypothetical estimation.

The truth is, no proper study has been conducted on this issue. At best we can have some sampling or exercises like MyDaftar which can provide some estimates. MyDaftar relies on the number of forms taken by potential applicants. If 9,000 forms were taken, doesn’t mean only got 9,000 cases, although one can ask why others didn’t take the forms. Maybe unaware, or unable to do so?

I’m taking an unorthodox (and probably another ballpark figure) way to estimate. If I add up my family, relatives, friends, acquaintances etc., probably there’s about 1000 Malaysian Indian people in my circle of contacts. Out of that, I know of less than 5 cases of people having permanent residence status. If extrapolate to 2 million Indians, then would be at least 10,000 PRs. Let’s triple it, for the sake of missing out those in underserved areas. so, 30,000 cases.

Secondly, the number of Indian plantation workers is dwindling by the day. If there are 30,000 such workers (x 4 for family members = 120,000 people), is it possible all of them are stateless? Further more, there is an influx of workers from India, so there’s a risk of these workers being categorised as stateless Malaysians as well. Let’s say 50% of the people are stateless, so that’s about 60,000 people.

Third, Tamil schools are one way to identify kids with no documentation. If a school has 20 such cases, then x 523 schools = 10,460 cases. If the family of the kid is also stateless, then 10, 460 x 4 (4 in a family) = 41,840 cases.

Total them up: 30,000 + 60,000 + 41,840 = 131,840, round it upwards to nearest ten thousand -> 140,000 stateless people is my upper bound ballpark figure. Obviously some of the people will be double counted if school and plantation is in same place. I guess a more realistic figure is about 50,000 – 100,000 stateless people.

Question that arise is are the efforts taken to register them sufficient? Is some sort of “amnesty” required to get them citizenship? Can there be a one-off process to settle this issue?

While politicians battle it out, one NGO has been working in these kind of issue for nearly 30 years. DHRRA Malaysia has plenty of experience handling statelessness issues. They estimated that between 2003 and 2006, 20,000 cases of women without documents were recorded. While in the article below, they mentioned about submitting 7,000 cases to NRD.

IT all started in 1974, when a group of young volunteers ventured into the outskirts of cities to help empower Indian women with knowledge and basic skills.

However when they got there, they had to deal with a much bigger problem involving statelessness, which was prevalent in the rural communities especially in estates and plantations.

The group that later registered themselves under the name Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas, Malaysia (DHRRA), decided to take on the monumental task of giving back identities to these stateless people and have been doing so for over three decades now.

“Since we started, until today, we have submitted over 7,000 cases of people not having any reliable data on them to the National Registration Department (NRD) and we have managed to resolve about 5,000 cases so far,’’ said DHRRA president Saravanan Sinapan.

Saravanan said a major stumbling block was the long and winding process with some cases taking as long as three to four years to resolve.

“A big problem we face is when gathering information such as the mother’s name when trying to help stateless children.

“It makes our job doubly hard as it takes time, effort and funds to track down lost family members,’’ he said.

He related a case of a young boy who had come to them seeking help to get a permanent citizenship and the struggles he and his adoptive family endured with government agencies.

“His mother had left with a neighbour when he was a baby,’’ related DHRAA women’s programme director Nanthini Ramalo.

“The neighbour decided to adopt him, and when he was 12, they managed to get him a green IC, which is only temporary identity document,’’ Nanthini said.

According to Nanthini, green IC holders are neither citizens nor permanent residents. However, those with green card ICs and birth certificates are able to apply for a MyKad.

But the problem was, the boy had no information of his birth mother. Her identity was a crucial information required for him to apply for his legal documents.

“He came to us seeking help when he wanted to further his studies in a local university but was deemed stateless and could not qualify,’’ she said.

The process to get his MyKad was a long and frustrating process of government red tape and endless trips to the NRD office to track down his birth mother.

“The NRD’s requirement is that the mother’s name must be furnished and luckily for us, we managed to eventually find her through a public appeal via The Star.

“Just imagine if we could not find her (the mother), the boy would never have been able to further his studies and would have ended being exploited for his statelessness through no fault of his own,’’ Nanthini said.

According to Saravanan, there are hundreds of similar cases of parents not registering their children’s birth in Malaysia, and the majority are from the plantation and estate workers.

“Due to the their statelessness, they have lived a life of poverty and discrimination and often end up languishing in detention centres simply because there is a lack of data on them, and what is worse is this vicious cycle of statelessness is handed down to the next generation,’’ he said.

While DHRRA deals with each application on a case-by-case basis, but with countless trips to the NRD and long delays are hampering them from helping people in a similar state in a more holistic manner.

But the matter, Saravanan said, can be expedited if the government were to conduct an amnesty exercise for stateless communities just like what they did for illegal immigrants under the “6P” programme last year.

“An amnesty exercise for the undocumented Malaysians can solve the problem stateless community as it is crucial to have good data to know the numbers as there have been a lot of confusion of late over the true number of stateless communities,’’ he said, adding that there still many people living without an identity in the outskirts.

Apart from that, another aspect of DHRRA’s role is to legalise marriages in the Indian community.

“You will be surprised to know that we have cases of couples going through a customary Hindu wedding ceremony without registering their marriage.

“We continuously stress the importance of having proper legal documentation and empowering women by educating them on their rights; as they fail to realise that the ramifications of not being legally married pose future problems like their right to pension and property as well as the legitimacy of their children,’’ Nanthini said.

This, she added, was also common in the estates and plantation areas where the community does not see the need to register their marriages and children’s birth; as many families felt that they would continue to live in the plantations for the rest of their lives.

“It is only later when they migrate into urban areas, and when they start to look for jobs or try to secure bank loans or even apply for a government low-cost house, that the bitterness of their stateless state sinks in,’’ Saravanan said.

DHRRA also conducts marriage registration ceremonies nationwide as well as counselling services, workshops and training programmes for women.

It has centres in Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Negri Sembilan with the help of some 215 volunteers.

“Our volunteers are retired civil servants, headmasters, teachers and university students whose dedication and passion have made us stronger.

“Now, what we need is a change in policies and laws that would enable us to do more for the marginalised community,’’ said Saravanan.

For details, call 03-7874 7680/81.



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