News / Asia

    Myanmar Begins Controversial Citizenship Verification Process

    Rohingya Muslims sit on the ground at Da Paing camp for Muslim refugees in north of Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, April 2, 2014.
    Rohingya Muslims sit on the ground at Da Paing camp for Muslim refugees in north of Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, April 2, 2014.
    Gabrielle Paluch

    The Muslim stateless residents of northern Rakhine state have long identified themselves as “Rohingya,” a term recognized by the United Nations, and foreign nations, including the United States.

    But not by Myanmar’s government. Instead, authorities are asking them to register as “Bengalis.”
     
    Myanmar's immigration department plans to carry out a controversial citizenship verification process in Rakhine state where there have been deadly ethnic and religious clashes since 2012.

    The government said the process is aimed at determining who qualifies to become a naturalized citizen. But many of those being asked to participate express concern it will classify them as illegal immigrants.

    Shwe Maung, an ethnic Rohingya member of parliament, said those being asked to register are hesitant to do so because they fear registering as Bengali will negatively impact their chances for full citizenship.

    He said there is no trust in the process, which he said could officially classify more than 1 million people as stateless, some of whom have been living in Myanmar for generations.
     
    "If they are 'Bengali,' the process will be as for foreigners, according to the 1982 law, I think therefore, Myanmar border police want, as with the census, the people to write themselves in as Bengali," Maung said.

    Shwe Maung said he has raised concerns about partial citizenship rights in parliament, but the issue is pending.
     
    Registration with the immigration department begins the citizenship verification process, after which a government committee is sent to weigh evidence of each individual's eligibility for citizenship.

    Because most Rohingya do not have government-issued identification, the committees will largely rely on the testimonies of village elders.
     
    Many Rohingyas are skeptical that a government that already classifies them as Bengalis will grant them citizenship based on the testimonies of village elders.
     
    Washington has, in the past, pressured the Myanmar government on the 1982 Citizenship Law. And in its 2014 report on religious freedom, called on authorities to promote the rights of Rohingya Muslims and provide “durable solutions” for refugees outside the country.
     
    Matthew Smith, director of the international human rights group Fortify Rights, says giving Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights is crucial to preventing the conflict in the future. He says foreign nations should press the government more on the issue.
     
    "The fact that the immigration department is handling this issue is indicative of the perception that all Rohingya come from Bangladesh," Smith said. "Immigration is an issue on all of Myanmar's borders, but the wholesale denial of Rohingya citizenship, Rohingya ethnicity, has contributed to these abuses that we've been documenting now for two years."
     
    So far, Rakhine political leaders like Aye Maung, a member of the newly formed Arakan National Party, have been supportive of the citizenship verification process.
     
    In the past, Rohingyas have registered with the government and received "white cards," which conferred the right to vote, but few other significant citizenship rights.
     
    But according to Aye Maung, the Arakan National Party has submitted a bill to parliament that would disallow even national registration card, or "white card" holders to vote in 2015.
     
    "We also accept this process we also demand all Bengali to go with this existing citizenship law for their status, and some percentage will get registration card," said Aye Maung.
     
    So far this year, an estimated 80,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar by boat to neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
     
    Since 2012, violence between Muslims and Buddhists have flared up across the country, killing hundreds, and displacing hundreds of thousands living in prison-like conditions in camps.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora