A rising e-sports player has won a years-long battle for Malaysian citizenship, a victory that allows him to compete internationally and highlights problems faced by hundreds of thousands of stateless children in the country.
Muhammad Aiman Hafizi Ahmad was part of a team competing in the popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which pits participants against each other in a virtual fight to the death.
However, when they won the chance to take part in two tournaments in China last year, the 20-year-old had to skip them — he could not travel overseas, as he was officially stateless.
Aiman was born in Malaysia to an Indonesian mother and an unknown father, and adopted by local parents, but he had never been recognized as a Malaysian citizen and could not get a passport.
He had applied to become Malaysian years earlier and was refused, but after being forced to miss the tournaments, he renewed his efforts by launching a widely publicized legal battle. Authorities then decided to grant him citizenship, making the court fight unnecessary.
“I have waited to get this certificate of citizenship for eight years,” Aiman said, delightedly clutching the document on Tuesday in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
With the legal battle behind him, Aiman said that he looked forward to “resuming playing in the competitive scene.”
Aiman was adopted by a couple from Malaysia’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority in the town of Taiping, in the central state of Perak.
Although his birth was later registered by his adoptive parents, his documents described him as stateless. As well as leaving him without a passport, this made it more difficult to get access to healthcare, education and work, and he could not even open a bank account.
Unlike some countries, Malaysia — which is home to millions of migrant workers from poorer parts of Asia — does not automatically grant citizenship to people born there.
At least 290,000 stateless children live in Malaysia, many with parents from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar, according to media reports citing officials.
Malaysia’s constitution says that the government can choose to register anyone under the age of 21 as a citizen, but Aiman’s lawyer, New Sin Yew, said that the process is “quite opaque and takes a very long time.”
“The fastest [application] can take about three years and the government often rejects applications without reasons,” he said. “I think if this case was not brought to the attention by the media, it would have been much more difficult.”
Aiman’s parents first tried to register him as a citizen when he was 12, but the application was refused.
He got into gaming by playing on his phone and discovered PUBG.
Aiman then started playing in PUBG competitions and joined a team, and hones his skills by practicing four to five hours a day.
He is hopeful for a bright future in e-sports.
“I want to make my family proud and my country, too,” he said. “That is my dream.”
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