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Sabah, Sarawak might face increased statelessness if Article 16A is repealed

Publish date: Sun, 26 May 2024, 11:40 AM

KOTA KINABALU: A non-governmental organization has warned of potential negative impacts for Sabah and Sarawak if Article 16A is removed from the Federal Constitution.

Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas social protection director Maalini Ramalo said the removal could hinder red identity card holders, who have resided in Sabah and Sarawak since before independence, from applying for citizenship for themselves and future generations.

She said the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2024, which underwent its first and second readings in March, is expected to be reintroduced during the upcoming parliamentary session next month. (hyperlink:

"In the case of permanent residency (PR), where we have many PRs and red IC holders, this amendment states that Sabah desires PR holders not to have the automatic right to pass citizenship to their children."

"Their rationale is that there are many foreigners, particularly in Sabah, thus the population has increased. However, the problem is that we have a lot of cases of statelessness. Instead of granting citizenship, they are given PR, many of whom are young, in their 20s.

"What will happen if they have children? It could result in intergenerational statelessness. We are not talking about PATI (illegal immigrants) or undocumented people. We do not know, why they do not want to recognise stateless people born of 'Malaysians'?" she said during a hybrid public forum on statelessness, stateless Sabahans, and MA63 organised by CSO Platform for Reform here yesterday.

Such a situation, she said, will stunt the country's economic growth and development of the nation.

According to Article 16A, anyone 18 or older living in Sabah or Sarawak on Malaysia Day can apply to become a citizen by September 1971 if they have lived there for at least seven out of the ten years before applying, including the last year, and plan to live permanently in Malaysia.

They must also be of good character and, if applying after September 1965 and under 45 years old, know enough Malay or English, or a native language in Sarawak.

Maalini, who is also CSO Platform and Reform URC Institutions Reform Lead, said that stateless people might also be subject to exploitation in employment.

"For employment, without documents, if you work for three months you would only receive one month of salary; they use you just because you don't have proper documentation."

She added that through the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA), a workshop was held to find the right way to address the issue.

"The constitutional amendment on citizenship has progressive amendments for mothers (giving birth overseas), but we are finding a way to work together with the government on other regressive amendments."

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