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Ending Statelessness in Malaysia

Ending Statelessness in Malaysia


There are at least 10,000 people in West Malaysia alone who are denied nationality, with unknown numbers in East Malaysia. These people aren't allowed education, jobs or healthcare.

As a result of the efforts from a local NGO, the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA), with technical support from UNHCR, the number of stateless people have reduced from an estimate of 40,000 persons in 2009, to 12,400 persons as of the end of December2017.

UNHCR continues to cooperate with other UN agencies, grassroots civil society organizations, and government stakeholders to promote and ensure birth registration for the prevention of statelessness within marginalized and hard to reach communities.
I Am Here, I Belong: The Need to End Childhood Statelessness



Total population in West Malaysia registered and provided paralegal assistance by DHRRA Malaysia.


Applications submitted to the National Registration Department (NRD). 


Cases which could not be resolved at the NRD level, filed in court by pro bono lawyers.


Applicants who have acquired identity documentation.

West Malaysia update

  • During British Colonial rule a significant number of persons were brought to Malaysia from India and Sri Lanka to work in plantations. After Malaysia re-gained independence, this group and their descendants were entitled to acquire Malaysian citizenship under the Federal Constitution.  However, the Malaysian Indian Community has faced challenges related to identity documentation and confirmation of Malaysian citizenship for many years.
  • A mapping and legal aid project implemented by UNHCR’s partner, Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA) with technical support from UNHCR, established a figure of 12,400 stateless persons residing in West Malaysia. A total of 12,078 nationality applications have been submitted to the National Registration Department (NRD) by DHRRA’s community based paralegals. Of this number, 2,359 persons have acquired nationality. DHRRA and UNHCR will continue to follow up on the progress of the applications. UNHCR projects that all nationality applications will be processed by 2018 as average nationality application processing time at NRD may take up to 3 years. 
  • UNHCR supported the development of a pro bono lawyer’s committee within DHRRA to litigate cases which cannot be resolved at NRD level and require further judicial remedy at courts. Through the committee, 90 cases have been filed at court, including 4 test cases to build jurisprudence on the nationality laws of Malaysia.
  •  There are provisions contained in Malaysia’s citizenship laws that, if fully applied, could help to resolve the nationality status of individuals within this population in West Malaysia. Addressing this issue at a policy level may be one of the ways to resolve citizenship and documentation problems faced by communities in Malaysia as a whole. UNHCR continues advocating for policy change through civil society to influence policy changes which may resolve statelessness.


East Malaysia update

  • The exact number of individuals or groups who may be affected by statelessness outside of Peninsular Malaysia is currently unknown. Contrary to the stateless populations in West Malaysia, the circumstances in East Malaysia, especially concerning the mixed migratory context in Sabah, is more difficult to establish and efforts to operationalize a programme had been generally considered more complex, compounded by the fact that UNHCR has not had an office in Sabah since the 1980s. 

Populations of concern in Sabah




Bajau Laut

I. Settled on land/coastal villages;

II. Semi-nomadic;

III. Nomadic   





(Children of) Filipino & Indonesian Migrant Workers

Irregular Status
Route to Nationality
At risk or Stateless



Street Children/Welfare Homes

Irregular Status
Route to Nationality
At risk or Stateless



Indigenous People in Sabah/Sarawak (Nomadic)

Nationality Disputed



  • UNHCR will maintain the coherent approach created amongst UN Country Team, Government, and Civil Society to develop and implement solutions-focused projects targeting Bajau Laut who are known to be stateless, in consultation with Bajau Laut and neighbouring communities.
  • UNHCR will continue engaging with Sabah-based NGOs through capacity assessment and building initiative. The initiatives will focus on programme delivery and solutions, advocacy, communication, and fund-raising, community based protection, and case identification and management with onward technical case management support of DHRRA, who will take on the mantel as the lead campaigner on the issue of statelessness in East Malaysia. DHRRA will continue to develop partnerships and engage diverse stakeholders in both East and West Malaysia through various information sharing platforms, workshops, and awareness raising campaigns.