Indigenous and stateless: Crisis of undocumented natives in Sarawak deepens

Indigenous and stateless: Crisis of undocumented natives in Sarawak deepens

Building of new Indonesian capital in Kalimantan expected to cause migration, complicate problem.

THE problem of native Sarawakians not having a birth certificate and identity card at the mountainous district of Belaga near the Malaysian-Indonesian border has become highly pressing and urgent.

These statelessness woes there must be resolved at all costs by the state government and Putrajaya before the long and porous border with Kalimantan is fully opened to facilitate movement between Sarawak and the planned Indonesian capital city of Nusantara.

“Sarawak’s border district of Belaga is the place that needs even more urgent focus as the number of local natives without birth certificate and MyKad is very high,” Belaga social activist Harry Wing said in an interview with The Vibes.

“Sarawak and Putrajaya are now looking at opening up on a large-scale basis the area between Belaga and Kalimantan to develop social and business links with Nusantara across the Belaga district.

“If the Sarawak and Malaysian governments do not resolve the problems of those local folks without documentation now, the problems will get even more complicated once the border is opened up.” For example, there will be unmitigated entry of foreigners into Sarawak, many of whom will get married to locals without the documentation.

There are bound to be Belaga women without a birth certificate and MyKad who will then migrate to Nusantara to work and end up having children there.

“Imagine the complications that will arise if they re-enter Belaga with children born from the foreign spouses.

“Putrajaya and Kuching must give urgent priority to the border districts and register as many of the stateless Belaga natives soonest,” Wing said.

Daunting task of reaching interior areas

Just last month, a mobile team made up of officials from the National Registration Department and the Sarawak-Putrajaya joint committee on stateless Sarawakians made two trips into the vast Belaga interior.

Wing said that they went to the Sg Asap Resettlement Scheme (population 20,000) to set up mobile registration counters.

“They also went into the upper reaches of Belaga where there are scattered Penan settlements.

“There are many more interior pocket areas that are very isolated and are extremely difficult to reach,” he said.

“There is zero telecommunication links in those areas, not even proper roads.”

Wing acknowledged that these mobile teams are facing daunting challenges.

“Even as a local Belaga boy, I have to endure days of hardship in order to reach the Penan in the Sarawak-Kalimantan mountains.

“I can imagine how difficult it must be for those in the mobile registration teams who are not locals; who are from Putrajaya and Kuching and who do not know the deep interiors,” he said.

Asked if he can give a rough estimate on the number of stateless folks in Belaga, Wing said nobody can give any such figure.

“This statelessness problem has been multiplying for generations,” he stressed.

Authorities unprepared to resolve massive problem

On Friday, Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) secretary-general Datuk Sebastian Ting had acknowledged that the problem of statelessness among Sarawakians is much bigger than even the state politicians had envisaged.

Ting, who is state assemblyman for Piasau and deputy state minister for tourism, culture and talent development, said he was shocked when he saw hundreds of stateless folk queueing up every day for the past ten days at the Miri Civic Centre to meet the National Registration Department mobile unit to apply for identity documentation.

“Yes, I went to check out the situation at the Civic Centre and I was really taken aback by the huge crowds of hundreds every day who came, trying to apply for birth certificate and MyKad.

“These stateless folk patiently waited for hours every day, many even sleeping on the floor… children and babies and even aged people.

The staff from the National Registration Department, the district office and resident’s office who were manning the mobile registration counters were also shocked with the overwhelming turnout. “They said they could not attend to so many at a time,” Ting said.

“I have to be honest; we (state authorities) did not envisage the situation (of stateless Sarawakians) to be so big.

“The hundreds that turned up at the Miri Civic Centre were from Miri district and surrounding districts. And this could just be the tip of the iceberg.

“I heard from those in the crowd that there are many more without a birth certificate and MyKad from the deep interiors in northern Sarawak who could not come in time.”

He warned that unless the problem is resolved, their next generation will also be without citizenship.

Thousands of longhouse communities unaccounted for

The special joint committee formed by the state government and federal government to help register stateless folk in Sarawak came to Miri city to set up a mobile registration counter base at the Miri Civic Centre from November 20 to 30.

Hundreds of rural stateless folk came each day, travelling to the city even from as far away as the remote Baram settlements in interior Miri.

However, many were left disappointed as the counter staff could only attend to a selected handful of these stateless folk daily.

Baram social activist Willie Kajan had called on the state and federal governments to make an urgent decision to extend the mobile counter services to December since there are literally hundreds of stateless men, women, children and elderly who are left unattended to.

On July 24, the special joint committee on citizenship registration for stateless Sarawakians formed by the state and federal governments were told to be more aggressive in seeking out those in rural Sarawak who are without a birth certificate and an identity card.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail has said that he wants to see more mobile units deployed into the remote interiors.

There are as many as 6,000 rural longhouses and remote scattered villages throughout Sarawak, a state as big as the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. Many of them still do not have proper road links with the outside world.

– The Vibes, December 3, 2023

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