A plan by officials in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to issue new identity cards in troubled Rakhine state has fallen well short, with only 1,600 Rohingya applying for the so-called green cards.
The cards, aimed at providing legal documentation while people go through the citizenship process, are meant to replace the nearly 400,000 white identity cards that authorities revoked earlier this year.
But Maung Maung Than, Director General of Rakhine State Immigration and Population Department, says some will not accept the new cards if the government insists they identify themselves as Bengali.
“New documents for those who want to seek citizenship are being issued and some have applied and already received it," he said. "Others are also being advised to do so. In the meantime, there are some instigators [who say] that only will it accept if the term Rohingya is recognized.”
A Rohingya resident in the state capital of Sittwe, who did not want to be named, told VOA the new process is unacceptable.
“We’ve got our White Cards under the 1953 Citizenship Law. Now that new Green Cards are being issued, things have changed. Authorities gave us the application for Bengalis going through the nationality verification process," the Sittwe resident said. "That means the government set a pre-condition for applying for citizenship as illegal Bengali migrants and this is something that we can’t accept.”
Another resident, who also did not want to me named, said in addition to the controversy over the name, the new cards are essentially useless.
“We know that we can have [the new IDs] as Bengalis if we want to. But with those new IDs, we still cannot travel freely and cannot access higher education.”
Authorities want the Rohingya to first identify themselves as Bengalis before the government will determine whether they can become citizens. Officials say the term "Rohingya" implies an ethnic claim that involves territory and is much more complicated than just citizenship.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.