While the actual number of stateless persons is subject to “guesstimate” – a not uncommon challenge having regard to the nature of the problem, whether the number is 30,000 or 300,000 should not be the issue. One should always bear in mind that statelessness is normally a hidden phenomenon and lacking in reliable data. Instead, there should be an acceptance that there are stateless communities with the relevant link with Malaysia (in particular by birth in the country, descent, marriage or habitual residence) – and that these people have rights under Malaysian and international laws and norms including freedom from discrimination, the right to a nationality and its accompanying rights and duties.

Statelessness is prevalent among refugees of Filipino descent in Sabah and ethnic Indians (and some ethnic Chinese) in Peninsular Malaysia. Many continue to live a life of exploitation and suffer from government neglect and institutionalised discrimination; they live in poverty, remain poorly educated and skilled, trapped and with no means to acquire a better living and existence.

As a consequence, many children are not properly registered after birth, leading to the inability to acquire the MyKad although some may acquire the red permanent resident card or other lesser identity documents. There are myriad and overlapping reasons: parents’ own uncertain citizenship status and lack of documents, poverty, birth at home, abandoned children, unregistered marriages, ignorance, apathy, and fear of authorities and fines due to delay in registration.

There is a serious lack of concern and care by the government and its agencies on these issues. There is no genuine government effort to register the affected communities nor is there any special procedure provided to facilitate their registration despite knowing the historical inequities and the context of their present circumstances. These “problematic” applications are treated on a case by case basis, and they are usually hampered by administrative obstacles, burdensome requirements, long delays and require repeated visits and interviews.

Without the MyKad, these stateless communities have difficulties in fully accessing the rights and services that ordinary citizens enjoy or take for granted despite being born and permanently residing in the country all their lives. These rights and services include better education, health care, employment and business, housing and property ownership, social security, freedom of movement, political participation and voting right, holding of passport – all of which leads to serious social problems and the cycle of statelessness that are handed down to the next generation.