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Aung Mingalar headcount shows population decrease

Immigration officers check documents in Aung Minglar on May 22. AFP

By Nyan Lynn Aung
Myanmar Times
May 24, 2016

Contrary to rumours reportedly sweeping Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, the number of Muslims living in Aung Mingalar quarter is actually falling, immigration officials say. A headcount, undertaken this past weekend in response to heightened tensions surrounding the enclave, has found barely 4000 residents, down from 4304 a few months ago and more than 4500 counted after violence erupted throughout the state in 2012.

The enclave was held by security forces during the 2012 riots, and has been under armed guard since. Until recently, security around the perimeters had been relaxed somewhat, although the ghetto’s food supply still comes largely from the IDP camp market. Sources told The Myanmar Times yesterday that since the headcount, no one has been allowed in or out of the quarter.

Last week, a government official said some Rakhine residents had written to Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu asking for the population of Aung Mingalar to be counted because they feared that many more people had entered the quarter and were staying there illegally.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the complainants included local monks and elders from various civil society organisations.

“The claims by Rakhine ultra-nationalists of a growth rate surge in this isolated enclave is ludicrous, and could be a trigger for an expulsion,” said David Mathieson, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“This is an important first test of the government to stare down extremists and ensure security for all residents of Sittwe, especially extremely vulnerable Rohingya Muslims.”

Some within the nationalist community have demanded copies of the headcount, and rumours circulated yesterday that ghetto residents had been secretly removed to skew the count. “These are preliminary results. The final figures will be issued by the state government,” said U Thar Tun Aung, a senior official of Sittwe immigration department. “We need to find out why the number has fallen, if people were fleeing, and where they went,” he said.

Police have also confirmed that there is no rise in the quarter’s population. Sittwe Special Branch officer Ko Phoe Lone said a few people were found to be staying in the homes of relatives who were not registered in Aung Mingalar and did not match the names in the household lists. “We found only two,” he said.

U Tun Aung Kyaw, secretary of the Arakan National Party, said the climate around the enclave remained highly sensitive. “We don’t want any conflict in Sittwe because of this quarter. It should be controlled in accordance with the law. The main thing is to ensure that security is adequate,” he said, adding that there had been no problems with Aung Mingalar since the 2012 outbreak of violence. However, he said, the quarter should be relocated if security could not be guaranteed.

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