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Census collection to end without Kachin, Rakhine communities

(Photo: Reuters)

By Bill O’Toole
May 28, 2014

Ministry of Immigration and Population officials have confirmed that “extended” census data collection would officially end this weekend, with populations in Kachin and Rakhine states that were left out of the original count almost certain to miss out again.

The confirmation comes despite reports that the government had reached an agreement with the Kachin Independence Army to collect data in KIA-controlled parts of Kachin State.

“We tried our best to collect in these areas, but we couldn’t get [agreements] so we’ll stop at the end of May,” said Daw Khaing Khaing Soe, director of the ministry’s census technical team.

The national census, which received technical and financial support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was scheduled to run from March 30 to April 10. However, problems quickly arose in Kachin State, where enumerators were not permitted to enter areas controlled by the KIA, and Rakhine State, where many Muslim communities were skipped altogether because they wanted to self-identify as “Rohingya” rather than “Bengali”. 

Both the UNFPA and the government had said in the weeks and months leading up to the census that all respondents would be free to self-identify as they wished. However, in the face of mounting pressure from Buddhist groups in Rakhine, the President’s Office announced on March 29 that no one who self-described as Rohingya would be allowed to take part.

Critics of the census say the problems should have been obvious to census organisers.

“Not completing the nationwide enumeration in Arakan and Kachin demonstrates the failure of the government and UNFPA to consider all the security risks involved in the census,” said Dave Mathieson, a Yangon-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“The government should be standing up to these extremist voices, not kowtowing to them, and the UNFPA and the donors to the census share responsibility for this unacceptable exclusion of minorities from a flawed census process.”

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