ASEAN Youth Forum: Where is my voice?

Written by Flower of Salween, originally posted at the Mekong Youth Blog on 1 May 2015.

I participated in the 2015 ASEAN Youth Forum (AYF), held in Malaysia, which was both enjoyable and very powerful. Youth from the ASEAN community, including people from Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, came together and shared and exchanged their concerns and views on issues such as development projects, education, sexual diversity, democracy, and the environment.

I am proud of the youth because they discussed these issues with a great amount of strength and clarity. They raised their voices about wanting to see good governments without corruption, real democracy, sustainable development, equal rights in society, participation rights in developing countries, and to see people’s human rights respected. During the days of the AYF, the youth from ASEAN countries joined each other for discussions, enjoyment, learning and raising their voices together.

During the forum, some questions came to my mind: Where is the discussion about stateless youth participation rights? Where are the voices of the stateless youth? Where is the stateless youth body in the ASEAN Community? From which countries do stateless peoples belong to?

Stateless youth in the ASEAN Community are from many countries. Most of the parents of stateless youth come from Myanmar, some of them from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and some of them from China.

I missed the chance to share across borders when I was a stateless child; I had many opportunities to share about my life, problems, and dreams as a stateless person, but I could only share all of this in Thailand. One time I had an opportunity to be able to share my experiences in Kenya, but I couldn’t go because I was a stateless child.

Now we are an ASEAN community, one community, in unity. People across nationalities are become one ASEAN population. But nobody can answer the question of whether or not stateless people are part of this ASEAN population as well. If you are a stateless person, what do you do? The people in ASEAN discussed issues like equality rights and security. For stateless people, even having legal status like a normal human being is something denied by the state.

My experience as a stateless child taught me that we don’t want any nationality but we do need to have equal rights in society. We are trying tirelessly to demand nationality or legal status. Because if we are illegal or are without a nationality, we are nobody in the world: No voice, No rights, No status, No state.

I want to see the states in the ASEAN Community discuss this issue and find the solution to achieving legal status for stateless people. I want states to do this together because stateless people are human beings and belong to the ASEAN Community. N ow stateless people have no freedom of movement, no public health insurance, no political rights, are paid low wages, are restricted in their field of study, have no rights to own property, and they are a target group for human trafficking. Do you want to see an ASEAN Community without illegal peoples? Do you want to see all people’s human rights respected? Do you want to see equality? Do want to see non-discrimination? Do you want to see everyone have a good quality and secure life? If your answer is YES! We have to put stateless people’s rights on the agenda. Let’s get into the habit.