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Eight stateless students released after eight days detention by Sabah police

All eight stateless students detained last week following their advocacy tour for higher education rights have been released on police bail on 21 June after eight days in custody. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia urged for an inclusive education policy, emphasizing access for all children irrespective of citizenship status, as crucial to ending cycles of poverty and exploitation.



SABAH, MALAYSIA: All eight stateless students detained during a protest outside the Sabah Chief Minister’s Office last week have been released on police bail on 21 June after spending eight days in police custody.

Earlier, civil society in Malaysia condemned 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.

As reported by Malaysian media Malaysiakini, BERSIH (The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election) Sabah Coordinator Asraf Sharafi confirmed the students’ release from Kepayan police station in Kota Kinabalu at around 7 PM on 21 June.

Asraf expressed relief over their release, noting that three students aged between 15 and 17 were minors.

“Even while in detention, they requested books and writing materials to read and write. I am confident these students are highly motivated to fight for their right to education and to change the negative stigma and perception towards their community,” he added.

Kota Kinabalu District Police Chief Kasim Muda confirmed on Friday night the detention of “nine undocumented individuals” and said that participants and organizers of the protest would be investigated under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

The eight youths from 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.

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 on 15 June while on a city tour of Kota Kinabalu.

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

On 20 June, Rondin updated that he had been released on police bail.

In a 22 June Instagram post, Sabah-based NGO Borneo Komrad highlighted several recent events in Sabah, including the burning and demolition of homes of the indigenous sea community, a peaceful assembly demanding water rights, and the arrest of the community teacher and eight students from Sekolah Alternatif.

The post expressed hope that these issues would mark the beginning of continued advocacy for marginalized communities.

“Human rights must continue to be demanded from the government so they are restored. And we must keep working hard to educate and enlighten!”

SUHAKAM urges realizing the right to education for refugee and stateless children in Malaysia

On 19 June, in a press statement, The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) called for an inclusive education policy that extends to all children, regardless of their citizenship status, to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation.

SUHAKAM reiterated that education is a fundamental human right, as emphasized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The human rights group noted that Article 26 of the UDHR and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) underscore the right to free and compulsory primary education for all children, but Malaysia’s reservation to Article 28(1)(a) limits this to Malaysian citizens only.

On World Refugee Day, SUHAKAM highlighted the challenges faced by Malaysia’s estimated 50,000 refugee children, who are denied formal education due to legal and policy gaps.

Despite Malaysia’s commitments under international declarations, refugee and stateless children primarily rely on informal education centres.

“SUHAKAM recommends enhancing cooperation between government agencies, particularly the Ministry of Education Malaysia, Ministry of Home Affairs, and NGOs, to ensure alternative schools run by NGOs receive proper recognition and to allow affected children to join public schools with student shortages, ” said Dr. Farah Nini Dusuki, Children’s Commissioner of SUHAKAM.

Controversial evictions of Bajau Laut community by Sabah authorities spark human rights debate

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

From 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, 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.

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Can this be described as an example of apartheid as practised in Malaysia?

I think so.