KUCHING (Dec 15): Sarawak indigenous peoples rights activist Peter John Jaban has called on Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin to fully understand the cause of stateless cases in Sarawak before creating any policy.
While he applauded Hamzah for his quick response to the report on the case involving Basar Arun and several other border scouts and Sarawak rangers, Jaban cautioned that without a proper understanding of the issues in Sarawak, this latest drive may also result in yet another failure.
Jaban, who had been dealing with stateless individuals especially in the rural and remote areas of Sarawak, therefore called on the minister to learn some lessons from the previous taskforce that was so expensive and yet largely ineffective, and to make sure that the National Registration Department (NRD) has fully understood the roots of the problem.
“The Home Minister is paying attention at least. This is good news for us in the Borneo States. Unfortunately, he is likely to find out that one year will be a very short timescale given the infrastructure problems in Sarawak.
“Additionally, I am concerned to see that he is still talking about ‘documentation’, which is the root cause of the misunderstanding,” he said in a press statement.
He was responding to Hamzah’s recent statement that his ministry is giving those without citizenship one year to register with proper documentation.
Hamzah said he will announce the mechanism on the matter soon but urged those who have not registered to do so as soon as possible.
Jaban pointed out that many of the natives in Sarawak simply do not have any document as they were born in rural villages where registration was unknown or uncommon.
He claimed that all these years, as a result of inaction by the NRD on this issue, it was simply too late to correct the problem.
Additionally, he said the stateless persons have not been able to register their children, resulting in the problems to go on.
“Any new drive that insists on a small range of evidence is simply doomed to failure.
“The minister must come up with innovative solutions to this issue. In the case of Basar Arun, the hospital cancelled his bill on the strength of his medals. Will the NRD consider similar evidence?” he asked.
Jaban claimed that he had dealt with a case of a woman who became stateless just because she came from an abusive family.
He said despite having a Sarawak clinic card from the time of her birth, the woman was denied citizenship, even though the application was made by the Welfare Department, all because her unfit mother had failed to register her.
“Now, her daughter is also stateless. Why is this piece of documentation, all she has to offer, not sufficient?”
“At the very least, these people have been resident in the country for their whole lives,” he added.
Jaban said the NRD must follow their stories carefully, not with a view to exclude but rather with a mindset of solving the problem where they firmly believe the case to be genuine.
He said this “rigid bias” against recognising claims has caused untold difficulties.
“I am now dealing with the case of one woman, also the daughter of a former border scout from Balai Ringin, who was allowed to deposit a substantial amount of money from her pepper farming into Bank Simpanan Nasional on the strength of a green identity card.
“Then, the NRD withdrew this type of identity card and now the bank is refusing to allow her to withdraw her own funds. Clearly her identity was good enough for them to take her money, but not to return it.
“In the first place, why BSN except her money? If this is to be an amnesty, then it must be a broad-ranging and responsive approach to avoid wasting further public funds.”
Jaban said the NRD must go to the ground and identify potential candidates and not expect the lifelong stateless to read about it in the press and apply on their own.
He said it should be given proper time and resources to come to fruition; most importantly, it must get to the roots of the issue.
Noting that documentation must be taken in its broadest sense, Jaban said the NRD must adapt their administrative requirements to allow indigenous peoples to receive their rights.
“This is the very definition of a responsive government,” he said.
Source: Borneo Post