This article explores issues involved with researching statelessness ‘on the ground’ during ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia with the children of migrants and refugees. It argues that many of these children, whose parents or grandparents originate from Indonesia or the Philippines, lack an ‘effective nationality’. However, rather than statelessness or illegality per se, what dominates these children’s lives is their perpetual ‘foreignness’. Even when children might be able to have their citizenship recognised by a parental country of origin, families often prefer to remain undocumented, and to wait (perhaps indefinitely) for the Malaysian citizenship they perceive as rightfully theirs.
In2013such sentiments were enflamed when an armed group claiming to represent the modern-day Sultan of Sulu entered Sabah from the Philippines. The ‘Lahad Datu standoff’ ended in violence and has led to the creation of a special security zone in eastern Sabah. See Associated Press ‘Malaysia launches air strikes against squatter sultan’s Filipino army’ The Guardian (Kuala Lumpur 5 March 2013) <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/05/malaysia-bombs-borneo-expel-sultan> accessed 21 October 2013.
BBC‘Rebels and troops resume fight in southern Philippines’BBC(14 September 2013) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24089553> accessed 14 September 2013.