Arakanese MPs Oppose Census Classification for Rohingya

human rights, Rohingya, Muslims, Buddhist, conflict, UNFPA, census, Arakan, Rakhine

The questionnaire used during the Population and Housing Pilot Census in 2013. (Photo: Pyay Kyaw Myint / UNFPA)

RANGOON — Arakanese members of Parliament said they have complained to the Minister of Immigration and Population Khin Ye over the fact that the upcoming nationwide census will allow stateless Rohingya to register their ethnic identity as they wish, in accordance with international standards.

Four MPs of the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) told The Irrawaddy that they met with Khin Ye on Tuesday to express their anger over the classification option offered to the Muslim population in northern Arakan State.

“We told him at the meeting that there will be a problem when using the Rohingya name in the census list,” said MP Pe Than. “But he told us that according to international standards for a census, his government does not have the right to change it. If he did, there will be a problem with the international community.”

The census will start at the end of March and requires respondents to select their ethnicity and religion. They can choose an ethnicity from a classification list of 135 minorities drawn up in the 1982 Citizenship Law by the then-military government.

The law omitted the Rohingya from the list and set them apart as a group without citizenship called “Bengalis,” to suggest most are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Rohingya Muslims claim nonetheless that they have lived in northern Arakan State for generations.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is assisting the Burmese government with the census, has said that respondents who do not identify with one of the 135 ethnicities can describe themselves as “other” and orally report their desired ethnic affiliations to the enumerator. These responses would later be sub-coded during data processing. This option would allow Rohingya to register their ethnic identity as they wish.

RNDP MPs said they were puzzled by the international standards for collecting census data as these seemed to contradict the government position that there is no Rohingya group in Burma.

“The government is officially saying there are no Rohingya, so how can there be a name of Rohingya on the census list?” Pe Than said, adding that the minister replied that census classification and official government policy “are two different issues—this problem will be solved later.”

Pe Than said Arakanese nationalist leaders threatened to hold protests against the census operations if the classification of Rohingya is allowed, adding, “We don’t have a problem with the [census classification] name Bengali.

[But] our party and our people will not be satisfied with this and for us, this will be a historic mistake for our country.”

Burma’s first nationwide census is due to get underway soon, but has caused controversy among different ethnic groups as many feel that the ethnic classifications drawn up by the government and the UNFPA are inaccurate.

International observers, such as the International Crisis Group, have warned that the inclusion of questions on sensitive issues of ethnicity and religion risk inflaming ethnic armed conflict and lingering tensions between Buddhists and Muslims, in particular in Arakan State.

Government data from 2010 put Arakan State’s population at about 3.34 million people, of which the Muslim population accounts for 29 percent.

In recent years, the Burmese government has made several attempts to survey the Muslim population in Arakan State, but Muslims have refused to cooperate because the option to identify as Rohingya was not offered.

Muslims in Arakan State and international human rights advocates have repeatedly requested that Burma recognize the Rohingya, but the government has continued to adhere to the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Many local Arakanese Buddhists worry that government recognition of the Rohingya population would precede an eventual shift in demographics in Arakan State, and with that a loss of political power and cultural identity.

There is also a deep rooted fear that the 150-million strong Muslim population of neighboring Bangladesh is eager to settle in the sparsely populated state.

During two outbreaks of inter-communal violence in 2012, nearly 200 people were killed and about 140,000 displaced, most of them Muslims. Most of the displaced continue to reside in squalid, crowded camps.

In the aftermath of the 2012 violence, President Thein Sein said Burma would not accept Rohingya as citizens and has asked the United Nations to help to resettle them in any other country willing to take them in.

In recent months, nationalist Arakanese have held recurrent protests against the presence of Médicins Sans Frontières Holland, who they accused of favoring the Rohingya. Last week, the government suspended work of the medical aid group in the state, ending its vital support for both Rohingya and Arakanese in need.

5 Responses to Arakanese MPs Oppose Census Classification for Rohingya

  1. It is not only a policy but also a game.

  2. Real ethnics of Myanmar do not get their wish but the Bengali people do get what they wish for. What a shame!

  3. It is lack of trust between the different races with diverse cultural and religious background. All the advanced civilized countries of so-called first world enjoy the superior life style and freedom all people in the third world yarning for living there as an economic migrants at least. Why can Burma not become the first world in this age of globalization? Burma needs the respectable Rule of Law to tame the aggression of the government and cronies to name a few. Then common sense is to live happily in Rainbow colors of multiracial-cultural-religious society without fear of any sorts. All Burmese must take pride in their national identity and must feel secured and proud to be Burmese. There should never be racial/ religious polarization. Foreigner who follows the local law and cultural value, love the people of Burma should be able to apply for residency provided they commit their allegiance to Burma. All the border post will be controlled by immigration department and border control as all in Burma had absconded the bad habit of graft taking and kick-back money. All Bangali who took residency must take oath of allegiance of Burma. No one can break the law. Any incidence of racial incitement or gesture would be dealt by police criminal investigation as it is crime. The long arm of court will prosecute the culprit. There is no such thing as bad and good people in this world. The difference is one who learns from the mistake he made, and the other is who never learn any in his life time. No worry. Be happy. it is very easy task.

  4. Government should postpone the Census because the Census will not go far enough to know complete population and ethnic background. Also there are many disagreements within ethnics about sub-ethnicity category. Now KIA won’t be participating in Census.

    In Rakhine state, Rakhine peoples are against illegal Bengali migrants using Rohingya instead of Bengali.
    Government must stand firm on illegal Bengali migrants’ ethnic identity. Bengali ethnic is Bengali and they can not have new ethnic identity as Rohingya. If you accepted illegal Bengali migrant as Rohingya and then you have to accept Rohingya as Burmese ethnic because Bangladesh Government denied Rohingya is Bangladeshi ethnic.
    The Bangladesh Government amended the Citizenship Order in 1982 to officially declare all Rohingyas non-nationals.
    In fact, Bangladeshi sneaking into Burma from Bangladesh on everyday basic whenever they have chanced to enter Rakhine state. Once they arrived in Rakhine state and then the Bengali becoming Rohingya.

    Illegal Bengali migrants’ problem can not be sorting by Burma alone. UN and HRW must accept illegal Bengali migrants are Burmese ethnic and in fact they are Bengali from Bangladesh.

    Also one problem is some of illegal Bengali Migrants are arrived in Rakhine state before 1971 Bangladesh Independent from Pakistan. Those Bengali peoples in Rakhine state are not recognized as Bangladeshi Citizen by Bangladeshi Government. They are stateless.
    However, majority of illegal Bengali migrants so called Rohingyas illegally entering to Rakhine state after 1971 Bangladesh Independent. Bangladeshi Government will be refused to accept them as Bangladeshi Citizen since the illegal Bengali migrant called themselves as Rohingya. So Burmese Government should not allow illegal Bengali migrants to use Rohingya as their new ethnic identity.

    UNHCR should resettle those so called Rohingya illegal Bengali migrants from Burma on one of Andaman Islands. Bengalis are one of Indian ethnics before British Colonized India. British Government should foot the bills of relocation costs because all problems were started by British Colony Government.
    There will be communal riot between local Buddhist Rakhine peoples and illegal Bengali migrants in Rakhine state if UNHCR does not relocate Bengali peoples from Rakhine state. OIC members should not pressure Burmese Government for permanent settlement in Rakhine state. All parties must listen to local Rakhine peoples.
    The best thing is relocation on one of Andaman Islands.

  5. George Than Setkyar Heine

    There is NO ETHNIC GROUP as ROHINGYA in BURMA. Period!
    Hence, the so-called ROHINGYA (illegal immigrants from Bangladesh) HAVE NO PLACE much less MENTION in the CENSUS TAKING of BURMA as well, don’t argue man.
    Just put BANGALI in the slot for ETHNICITY and ALL WILL SUFFICE and SATISFY the MATTER of course.
    The so-called ROHINGYA COULD SERVE THEMSELVES and BETTER for THEIR FUTURE as well by GETTING OUT OF ARAKAN STATE and BURMA most preferably before the CENSUS TAKING is COMPLETED and DONE trust me.
    The SOONER THE BETTER for the BANGALIS I say and in good faith as well.

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