Inhumane Treatment Of Stateless Bajau Laut
The plight of those who are stateless in Malaysia has been a long and unending humanitarian crisis.
The neglect and inhumane treatment of the stateless community in Malaysia is exemplified by the predicament of the Bajau Laut in Sabah.
I read with heartbreak and tears the way these four women and their children, described in a Malaysiakini article, were denied their basic rights, abused, and victimised by the system.
But I was not surprised. I have often heard of such inhumane treatment of the Bajau Laut and other stateless communities from my fellow doctors working in Sabah and from NGOs working with the Bajau Laut.
Routine and basic antenatal and child healthcare for these stateless people are placed financially out of their reach.
Without any routine antenatal care, and by being forced to give birth at home, we put the mothers at a high risk of maternal mortality; and the babies at risk of neonatal mortality.
The lack of routine primary healthcare for stateless children, i.e. routine primary immunisation as well as growth and developmental monitoring, results in a high infant and under-five mortality.
No family should have to pay for basic life-saving immunisation for their child.
The prospects are even worse regarding healthcare for these groups who require hospitalisation or specialist attention.
While admission is possible for life-threatening illnesses, they still have to pay high fees for hospitalisation, procedures, and medication, putting such healthcare out of the reach of the majority.
Some who are admitted are denied discharge until their bills can be settled. Others are reported to the Immigration Department and transferred to detention facilities.
For their children, the basic rights to healthcare, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, have yet to be upheld by any government in Malaysia.
There exist many other barriers for them to access healthcare, which include: fear of being deported, poverty, work mobility, language, and the lack of respect and treatment received from health staff.
When you are declared stateless, despite being born in your own country, you have no documents, you are denied basic rights and are placed in a position of fear and dependency.
It is an embarrassment to talk about our health services as being among the best in the world when we retain many barriers to stop vulnerable families from accessing basic healthcare.
The stateless Bajau Laut live as a ‘ghost community’ in our nation. Despised and abused not just by the authorities but also by other communities.
It is long overdue that we attempt to regain our humanity as Malaysians and end this institutional abuse of the stateless people in our nation. Otherwise, we will pay the price of our inhumanity in our own children and their children.
We should enact legal provisions that guarantee all children living in Malaysia the right to health care, regardless of their legal status - in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 24), and our Child Act 2001 that protects every child in Malaysia.
This legal provision should be extended to their families. We need to remove prohibitive and expensive medical treatment fees/charges levied on families who are migrants, refugees, or stateless.
And we should protect migrant, refugee, and stateless children and their families from arrest and detention when they seek healthcare at hospitals and clinics.
For Aimah, we should immediately help her prove that the child is hers. A simple DNA test of the mother and the child will ascertain that the child is hers. - Mkini
AMAR SINGH HSS is a consultant paediatrician and child disability rights activist.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.
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