GEORGE TOWN: Seven stateless children gathered at the Penang Education Department yesterday to “beg” the authorities to let them go to school, but were told to get passports in order to be enrolled.
All seven children, aged between seven and 12, were born in Malaysia, with at least one of their parents being a Malaysian.
The situation came about despite clarification from the Immigration Department, denying it had issued such a directive, and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi urging schools to admit such children.
One parent, Loh Wei Hun, said it was foolish and ridiculous to ask for his two children’s passports as they were both stateless despite being born in Malaysia.
His son, Lim Choon Yik, 7, was supposed to start Year One while his second son, Lim Choon Ling, 6, will start school next year.
They were born to him and Chinese national Zheng Rui, 36. Loh, however, did not register his marriage with Zheng when they got married 10 years ago.
“I was so happy to hear in the news that stateless children can go to school.
“But when I came here, a woman at the counter held up a letter from the Immigration Department, asking for a passport from stateless students.
“This is foolish and ridiculous,” the 40-year-old businessman told reporters when met at the Education Department office in Bukit Jambul here yesterday.
He later showed reporters the purported Immigration Department document shown to him by a Penang Education Department officer.
The purported circular from the Immigration Department. A paragraph reads that ‘foreign children’ born in Malaysia or otherwise have to provide passports, which will be used to issue a special pass for the children.
Loh and the group of parents and children in the same predicament were there at the invitation of PKR’s national stateless programme coordinator Kumaresan Arumugam.
Kumaresan told reporters that children waiting to enrol into Year One was only one side of the issue.
He said stateless children were also told to leave school halfway, which was also cause for concern.
He said one of the children, 12-year-old Tan Ping Siew, a Year Six student, was told to leave school midway as he did not have a passport.
“Every child has the basic right to education. By blocking them from getting their education, you are infringing on their rights.
“The Immigration Department has gone beyond its powers by issuing circulars to the Education Department.
“We want the Immigration Department to immediately rescind the circular. If not, we will sue the Immigration Department on behalf of these children,” Kumaresan said.
Families with stateless-related issues can contact Kumaresan at 014-945 9621.
Earlier yesterday, the Immigration Department denied issuing any circular prohibiting children classified as non-citizens from entering schools to study in the country.
Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said children with non-citizen status would be allowed to enter school if the parents or guardian could produce all the relevant documents required by the education ministry.
Yesterday, the deputy prime minister, who is also the home minister, said all schools must abide by the education minister’s directive to take in children, even if they have no citizenship documents.
Zahid said the parents of such children could refer their problem to the state Education Department or the ministry if any school refused to admit them.
“Whenever the minister concerned issues a directive, it must be followed by the schools.
“The issue of obtaining the birth certificate and other documents is for the National Registration Department to deal with.”
Last Saturday, Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid said non-citizen children would be allowed to attend school while their application for citizenship was being processed.