Connect with us

Civil Society

Criticism mounts over Malaysia’s detention of eight stateless youths in Sabah

Civil society in Malaysia condemns Sabah authorities for detaining eight Bajau youths advocating for stateless students’ education. They demand immediate release, respect for human rights, educational access regardless of citizenship, and an end to marginalization.



SABAH, MALAYSIA: Civil society in Malaysia condemns the actions of authorities in Sabah for detaining eight Bajau youths, including three minors, who were advocating for higher education for stateless students during their tour in Kota Kinabalu.

They call for the immediate release of the detained students, respect for human rights and educational access for all children regardless of their citizenship status, and an end to actions that marginalize and criminalize stateless communities.

The eight youths are believed to be of the Bajau tribe, a nomadic community that has inhabited Sabah’s porous sea borders for centuries and whose people remain undocumented due to their migratory culture.

Many Bajau people, sometimes spanning generations, are considered “stateless” in Malaysia.

The eight were arrested alongside a local grassroots activist, Syahfeeq Rondin, who initiated a campaign to secure educational access for Bajau’s stateless youths.

According to news reports citing Sabah police, they were detained because they carried no valid documentation.

They were participating in the Alternative University and Stateless Union Tour, aimed at establishing higher education for stateless youths by visiting education centres, meeting with collaborative organizations, joining a protest initiated by Sabah University students, and developing ideas for the university and union.

They were detained on the final day of the tour, a day before Hari Raya Haji, while on a city tour of Kota Kinabalu.

Five of them are said to be aged between 18 and 22, while the other three are below 18. According to Sekolah Alternatif, a local educational project aiming to eradicate illiteracy among undocumented children, these students have been studying at the school since 2017.

The activist, Syahfeeq Rondin, a teacher, was arrested under Section 55B of the Immigration Act for ferrying persons who are considered “illegal.”

Bringing University dreams within reach for stateless children

On Thursday (20 June), Mr Rondin updated that he was released from police station on police’s bail.

In a Facebook post, he thanked friends and supporters who stood in solidarity with him and the students during their police detention, and assuring that he and the students were treated well during their detention.

Upon release, he noted that all the students were healthy and their spirits remained high, continuing to pray for their well-being.

“Being arrested was not what the children and I wanted; this journey had been planned for months. We believe that everything done is a lesson and not a futile action.”

Mr Rondin reiterated the purpose of the Alternativew University Tour was to give hope to children who once only dreamed of becoming university students, making that dream almost a reality.

“This university is crafted by them, planned, and will be built according to their wishes. Until now, the ones always singing their praises were outsiders, but this time, at this moment, when they fought for themselves, the struggle was momentarily halted.”

However, Mr Rondin pleaded Malaysian community support to urge the authorities for immediate release of the eight student.

“They are students, not criminals. The path to the lockup seems easier than the road to school. ” Mr Rondin lamented.

The recent arrests came amid growing public scrutiny over the Sabah state government’s treatment of the Bajau people.

During 4 to 6 June, the Sabah authorities burned several homes belonging to Bajau Laut families around the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, an incident widely recorded and later went viral.

However, the state government denied any human rights violations in the eviction of hundreds of Bajau Laut people.

Sabah Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew stated, “In this sense, I don’t see any human rights violation. If you talk about that …yes, I admit they have been staying there for a long time. But… human right violations I would say we would talk about this when we come to the discussion table.

“There is a lot of technical issues behind it. First we need to identify what are their nationalities, what kind of human rights violations are we talking about? Have they been offered to move and live inland and they refused as they prefer that kind of lifestyle?” she told the media on 7 June.

In a subsequent statement, she said that authorities had the right to take action as the protected marine park prohibited many activities deemed destructive.

In a statement issued on 9 June, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said it is closely monitoring the recent evictions by the Sabah government against the Bajau Laut community in Semporna.

Suhakam said there is a need to assess the broader humanitarian impact of these actions despite prior notice given to the affected communities.

The Bajau Laut is a unique and historically marginalized community facing significant challenges, including limited access to basic services such as healthcare and education.


Share this post via:
Continue Reading
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Why not legalise them and let them have an education?