SITTWE, Arakan State — As much media coverage in recent months has focused on Arakan State’s disenfranchised Rohingya Muslim minority, another group here also looks likely to miss out on the historic vote later this year: Arakanese Buddhists who had lived for years in neighboring Bangladesh, but have since moved to Burma.
Numbering more than 3,200 people, the group returned to its ancestral homeland in 2012 following interreligious violence in Arakan State that left them fearful of reprisals in majority-Muslim Bangladesh.
Two outbreaks of violence in June and October of that year saw more than 100 people killed and 140,000 others flee their homes, with Rohingya Muslims bearing the brunt of the casualties and displacement. As tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled western Burma in the years since, a smaller migration has seen some Arakanese tribes move from Bangladesh to Arakan State, concerned that the 2012 violence could spawn discrimination or retaliatory attacks against Buddhists living in the South Asian nation.
Khin Soe, head of the Arakan State Immigration and Population Department, told The Irrawaddy that these 3,211 people would not be eligible to vote in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election, and would also be monitored for three years before being granted Burmese citizenship.
“Some of them have come temporarily and we have to see if they will go back [to Bangladesh]. Some of them have property—land and houses there [in Bangladesh],” said Khin Soe. “Though they are one of our ethnicities, they are citizens of that country. It is OK if they were to give up that [Bangladeshi] citizenship and live here permanently, but we will wait and see for three years.”
The populations that have left Bangladesh officially belong to the ethnic Arakanese subgroups of Mro, Thet and Daingnet. Since their arrival in Burma, they have been provided shelter at the villages of Khayay Myaing, Kin Chaung, Kaiggyi, Shwe Baho and elsewhere in Maungdaw Township.
But with the group reliant on donors and the government to supply them with basic necessities, the chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Maungdaw Township, Khin Maung Than, said a greater effort should be made to assimilate the group, providing them with the means to become self-sufficient and incentivizing the prospect of a more permanent status in Burma.
“Though the government has given some of them farms, many of them have not [been given farmlands]. [The government] should carry out short-term plans for the time being to attract them to live here, and [it] should carry out long-term plans later. Now, they have to rely solely on donors. If things are not going well for them, they won’t live here long. They will go back [to Bangladesh].”
The concerned migrants total some 584 households, and 1,708 of the 3,211 people have been granted temporary residency certificates by authorities in Arakan State. Those without certificates, also known as “immigration permits,” have not been given the documents because they have not yet attained the age of 10, according to the Immigration and Population Department.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of fellow Arakan State residents from the persecuted Rohingya minority will also be unable to vote in November, with President Thein Sein revoking their temporary identity documents—better known as “white cards”—earlier this year. White card holders had been eligible to vote in Burma’s 2010 election, and their disenfranchisement has raised alarm bells among the international community ahead of the November vote.