In Sabah, Suhakam says number of statelessness complaints show urgent need for lasting solution

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Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said it was also apparent that the Sabah’s current political situation prevented a clear solution to the issue even when all quarters agreed that action must be taken. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said it was also apparent that the Sabah’s current political situation prevented a clear solution to the issue even when all quarters agreed that action must be taken. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

KOTA KINABALU, April 19 — The bulk of complaints the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) received in Sabah since 2017 were regarding statelessness and citizenship issues, said Commissioner Jerald Joseph.

He said they accounted for 1,036 out of 2,144 complaints received from then until 2021 while the rest involved land rights, access to government services and infrastructure, and police abuse.

“Based on these statistics alone, it is clear that the problem cannot be delayed further, especially in Sabah. It has dragged on for far too long and a clear resolution is needed,” said Jerald.

He said that it was also apparent that the state’s current political situation prevented a clear solution to the issue even when all quarters agreed that action must be taken.

“I think it is clear to everyone that a resolution is needed. It works best to legalise them and put them in a system so that they can be regulated. But the resistance is strong whenever a proposal is put up,” he said.

He called on politicians and state authorities to disseminate information quicker and with transparency in order to build goodwill.

“There is a need to share information first before making a big announcement. They are good proposals, they just need to be presented properly, with input from stakeholders. Everyone knows they need to be in the system

“And eventually it needs to work towards citizenship, and that is where the will and courage from politicians is needed,” he said.

He said on humanitarian grounds, none should be left without an identity or nationality.

He also said none should be denied the basic human right of having a country to call home, more so if they have resided in one place for decades and generations.

“Without proper documentation, these people cannot send their children to school, they cannot get healthcare or welfare aid, nor can they find jobs with salaries that pays reasonably, like those with the right documents,” Jerald said.

Because of the complexity of the issue, generations of stateless people in Sabah go undocumented, with the number increasing every year.

No official figure has been reached, but their numbers are estimated to be between half a million and one million people.

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