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Registration Department obstructed rights of stateless siblings despite promise to assist with citizenship

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the 19 October press statement issued by the National Registration Department that claims that the four stateless siblings “refused to cooperate” in resolving their citizenship issue.

The 4 stateless siblings – Aziq, 24, Azreen, 22, Azzahra, 12, and Azalea, 9 – went to the Registration Department in Putrajaya on 19 October to obtain acknowledgment of their Malaysian citizenship. They went upon the invitation of the department itself, made through a press release on 17 October.

Shockingly, not only were they denied assistance, but the Registration Department has now maliciously resorted to [allegedly] defamatory statements in order to shift the blame upon the four siblings who have suffered for years due to the department’s own wrongdoings and administrative failures.

It is blatantly false that there were insufficient details of the parents’ marriage as claimed by Registration Department in its statement. A copy of the marriage certificate, which was certified true under seal, was submitted to the officials at the department yesterday.

The Registration Department also added unnecessary and unlawful conditions by requiring the application to be made by a person who is already a citizen. There is no legal reason why the siblings themselves or any stateless individuals for that matter cannot make this application themselves. The Constitution and laws impose no such condition. Those qualified for citizenship under Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution are entitled themselves to submit the application to the department. There is no need for a ‘middleman’ with Malaysian citizenship to apply on their behalf. The siblings are being denied their rights due to unlawful and excessive bureaucratic requirements.

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As such, it is false that the four siblings were uncooperative with the Registration Department. On the contrary, the department came up with baseless objections, making the process fraught and difficult.

What transpired yesterday was truly appalling; the siblings who came to the the Registration Department believing that they will get their citizenship issue resolved were instead met with officials bent on making the process difficult and further denying their rights.

From the outset yesterday, the Registration Department attempted to deny them the assistance of their lawyer to fill up the forms and in discussing with officers. It was only after repeated pleas that the department finally allowed their lawyer to assist the siblings. What was the need for this?

Throughout the process in the Registration Department on 19 October, instead of offering advice, multiple officers including the director general of the department himself, Zamri Misman, continually harassed the four siblings by accusing them of making the process difficult by involving lawyers and blamed them for not getting “proper advice” from the department before holding a press conference. At one point, even with lawyers present, they attempted to hand over the foreigner’s citizenship application form which was clearly the wrong form as the siblings are Malaysians as of right.

What is the Registration Department’s motive in misleading or obstructing the siblings, despite knowing that they are seeking Malaysian citizenship as of right through their Malaysian father and not as foreigners?

All this despite the clear fact that the siblings qualify for Malaysian citizenship by virtue of their Malaysian father, in accordance with Article 14(1)(b) and the Second Schedule para 1(a) of the Constitution. Their Malaysian father and their Indonesian mother were married prior to the birth of the siblings. As legitimate children, they inherit the citizenship of their father under the Constitution.

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As the Registration Department and the government are fully responsible for the plight of the siblings, including denial of schooling to Azzahra and Azalea, it was their solemn duty to facilitate and honestly assist them on 19 October. It was dreadful for these children, especially the two youngest ones, that this did not happen.

The treatment received by the four siblings when dealing with the Registration Department is inexcusable. One can only imagine how stateless persons are treated by them when lawyers are not present. It is truly alarming that the department’s officers act with such impunity and disregard of the Constitution.

We urge the government to act swiftly to resolve the citizenship woes of the four siblings as they have been denied their rights for too long and their future is in jeopardy. It is especially so for the two youngest siblings, Azzahra and Azalea, who are not in school due to the Registration Department’s refusal to recognise them as Malaysian. We further demand an explanation from the government and the Ministry of Home Affairs over the unacceptable treatment meted out by the department’s officers on 19 October towards the four siblings and the failure to resolve the matter.

Irrespective of the difficulties created by the Registration Department, the siblings have submitted the application to the department on 19 October, with all details necessary under the law included, and the department has acknowledged receipt. We urge the department to process and acknowledge the siblings as Malaysian citizens immediately. There are no grounds for further delay or to keep Azzahra and Azalea out of school any further. – LFL

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Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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