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Muslim Villagers in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Refuse to Participate in Census

A Rohingya man, woman and children gather in a shop in the Thel-Chaung displacement camp in Sittwe, eastern Myanmar's Rakhine state, Nov. 8, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

By Radio Free Asia
June 7, 2016

Authorities conducting a census of Muslim residents in three townships in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state have encountered opposition from the inhabitants of one village who refuse to provide information because they are not allowed to mention their race and religion in order to qualify for national identification cards, a local official said.

Colonel Htein Lin, Rakhine’s border affairs and security minister, and a state immigration officer told the Muslim residents of Kadi village in Ponenakyune township about the census, but the residents refused to provide the necessary information unless the cards listed their race and religion, said village administrator Maung Ni.

“We will not accept this census because our nationality and religion will not be shown on the card they are giving us,” Maung Ni said.

The villagers will participate in the census once the cards include such information, he said.

Previously issued cards, which are referred to as “green cards” but are light blue in color, have contained an identification number, the name of the holder, their gender, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, and father’s name, with visible identification marks in Burmese and English.

Those who possess green cards can apply for full Myanmar citizenship, but must first undergo a citizenship verification process.

Authorities are issuing Muslim residents older than 10 the cards while they conduct checks to see if they are eligible to become citizens.

Officials said that they have collected census data from about 90 Muslims in the town of Kyaukpyu and more than 120 in Myaypon township and will try again to collect information from those in Ponenakyune next week.

Stateless Rohingya

About 1.1 million stateless Muslims, also called Rohingya, live in Rakhine, with about 120,000 residing in internally displaced persons camps following communal violence with the majority Buddhists in 2012.

The government refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis” and considers them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many have lived in Rakhine for generations.

Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw last week created a Central Committee for Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State to put the impoverished, strife-torn region on a path to peace and development.

State Counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who chairs the new committee, recently met with Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu and various national government ministers to discuss the controversial process of registering internally displaced persons that reportedly resumed in June, the online journal The Irrawaddyreported.

Lieutenant General Ye Aung, Myanmar’s minister of border affairs and member of the committee, said last week that the citizenship verification process will be carried out transparently and in accordance with the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law.

The government began issuing green cards to Muslims in 13 townships in Rakhine state a year ago to verify their identities, bringing them a step closer to applying for citizenship.

Myanmar’s former military junta had issued temporary identification cards known as “white cards” to Muslims in Rakhine for the 2010 elections, which saw Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government take power from the army regime.

But in 2015, authorities began collecting the white cards and distributing green cards in their place so that holders could apply for citizenship.

By Min Thein Aung and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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