Malaysia’s permanent residents who are 60 and older, including 3,407 stateless Indians living in the country, will become citizens after they have fulfilled all conditions under the government’s new relaxed citizenship requirements, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday.
Mahathir said the government’s move would be in accordance with an electoral pledge made by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to the Indian community before it took power as a result of its electoral triumph in the May 9 general election.
“This is to solve the stateless issue among the Indian community in the country,” the 93-year-old leader told a news conference as he explained that the decision was made Monday after his meeting with representatives of the Indian community, PH lawmakers and senators.
“Those age 60 [and older] can get the blue identity card,” Mahathir said, referring to the card that proves Malaysian citizenship.
The government’s relaxed requirement also would open the path to citizenship for children of mixed parentage.
The government’s decision encompasses all ethnic groups in Malaysia, Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said during the news conference.
Kulasegaran was given a red identity card by the government when he was 12 even though he was born and reared in Malaysia. He said he had to resolve several issues before he received a blue card.
More than 269,000 permanent residents live in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation with at least 32 million people, according to the latest figures from the Home Ministry. There are 303,274 foreigners with legal documents staying in the country as of June, officials said.
Those with permanent resident status in Malaysia carry red identity cards that do not permit them to get government jobs or join the military. Muslims with that status cannot attend the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, under the Malaysian quota.
Raj Kuma, one of the 3,407 Indians affected by the government’s decision, said he was relieved to learn his paperwork difficulties would finally come to an end.
“I was born here, I went to school here when Kuala Lumpur was still surrounded by tin mines, yet all this while I am not considered a citizen,” the 65-year-old resident of Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur told BenarNews.
Despite his age, he said, he has not been inside any election booth.
“I am looking forward to vote this team back come next election,” he said.
For those younger than 60, Mahathir said the issuance of their citizenship would be subject to several conditions, including being a child of a Malaysian parent and having been born in Malaysia.
Aside from senior citizens, the prime minister announced that children born in Malaysia to at least one parent who is a Malaysian citizen will be eligible for citizenship, a departure from the old system that awarded citizenship only to Malaysia-born children with Malaysian fathers.
Questioning government’s will
Sharmila Sekaran, chairwoman of Voice of Children, a child advocacy group, welcomed Mahathir’s announcement.
But she questioned the government’s will in solving the stateless issue of other children, such as children born out of wedlock to Malaysian fathers, children born outside Malaysia to Malaysian mothers, as well as stateless children legally adopted by Malaysians.
Malaysia is one of about two dozen countries that deny women their right to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis as men, according to rights groups.
Under current laws, a child who is born abroad to a Malaysian mother is not automatically considered a Malaysian citizen. The mother will have to submit an application to the Malaysian embassy where she is based and wait for approval, which often takes years. Many applications have been turned down.
“Among the Indian community, customary marriages still take place, so the child born out of that arrangement is not considered as a legitimate child of the father in Malaysia because the parents are not legally married,” Sharmila told BenarNews.
She said a child without a known parent and stateless children who are under the custody of the welfare board also are deprived of citizenship despite being wards of the state.
“Why are these children being discriminated against?” she said.
Mahathir said that such scenarios will require additional discussion.
“Nowadays, you come up with LGBT, men marrying men, women marrying women, and they are also having children,” he said. “All these biological changes are taking place.”
Aside from the parentage and birth requirements, the government will put the applicant through a simple Bahasa Malaysia competency test, he said.
“The Bahasa Malaysia competency test will only touch on simple use of the language. If they pass, then we will accept them [as citizens],” he said.
A requirement for citizenship will call for applicants to be based in Malaysia for at least 12 years, with at least 10 of those years spent as actual residents, Mahathir said.