Despite academic achievement, Malaysia-born stateless scholar feels ‘unwanted’

Roisah has long dreamt of becoming an accountant. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Roisah has long dreamt of becoming an accountant. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — It took a few months but STPM top scorer Roisah Abdullah has finally been able to attend classes at the Tun Abdul Razak University (UniRazak) here.

The hold-up is because the 21-year-old UniRazak freshman is not considered to be a Malaysian citizen in the eyes of the law, despite being born here, and despite promises of help from the previous Barisan Nasional government after her statelessness was highlighted in the media, including Malay Mail.

Roisah — Roi to her friends — has long dreamt of becoming an accountant and is now able to work towards that goal thanks to a scholarship award from UniRazak.

But for all her achievements, she is haunted by questions over her lack of citizenship.

“On some nights, I cry myself to sleep. You just can’t stop thinking that despite what you have been given today, it was based on pity, that I achieved so much academically, and I am stateless.

“That feeling still makes you feel like an unwanted person. I love this country. I was born here, am living here, and want to continue doing so,” Roisah told Malay Mail when met at a scholarship award ceremony in her university campus here.

Children who are born in Malaysia but fail to get their citizenship are often thrown into a complex bureaucratic and legal mess, leaving them with an uncertain future.

Their statelessness is due to many different reasons.

Roisah, who was born to a foreign mother and an absentee Malaysian father, was officially adopted by a Malaysian woman named Satrah Nabowah.

Her adopted mother had worked as a tailor to support Roisah and fought for the girl to attend school — which is not an automatic right for stateless children — but failed to get her registered as a Malaysian citizen and subsequently died in 2014 at age 61.

“I am really so, ever grateful for the kindness shown to me. However, wherever I go, I need a MyKad.

“The main problem still stands as it is. I feel scared on some days. What will happen to me? Despite my achievements, would I still be stateless?” Roisah said.

The ambitious young woman played down her fame following the media reports on her statelessness.

“The fame is nothing. It is a reminder that I am still stateless. I cannot open a bank account even. I hope the government will help me.  I want to live a normal life like my friends who have their citizenship. I really do.” she said, trying to hold back emotions as she was accompanied by her guardian, S. Sathiyamurithe.

Sathiyamurithe has acted as Roisah’s guardian since she was 13 years-old, assisting her financially and taking care of her needs.

“I thank UniRazak for helping her by giving her a full scholarship. This opportunity will help her become a better person, and contribute to the nation she so loves.

“She is like my daughter,” the ethnic Indian said.

“I don’t care that she is not my race.  In this new Malaysia, does that all matter?” she asked.

Sathiyamurithe expressed her hope that the new Pakatan Harapan government will help Roisah realise her greatest wish, to be a Malaysian citizen.

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