RANGOON – Arakan National Party lawmakers have raised objections to a Muslim woman in Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township being issued full citizenship earlier this month—an act which they say was carried out against existing regulations.
Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP regional parliamentarian, said that his claim that the woman’s citizenship status was granted wrongfully is backed by the head of the immigration department, Win Lwin, and the Arakan State security border affairs minister Col. Htein Lin, a statement which The Irrawaddy could not confirm at the time of publication.
On Wednesday, four ANP representatives and the state governing body held a public meeting to discuss the objection of Buthidaung Township’s Buddhist Arakanese residents to the national verification committee’s recommendation for 31 of the township’s Muslim residents to be granted citizenship.
Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law allows for three levels of citizenship with diminishing rights: full, naturalized and associate. Of the 31 individuals who applied under the category of “Bengali,” in Buthidaung Township, it was reported that “two or three” of the applicants obtained full citizenship and the rest were recommended for naturalized citizenship.
After anti-Muslim violence spread throughout Arakan State in 2012 and 2013, an “Action Plan” for the region was introduced under the administration of ex-President Thein Sein in 2014. Included was a citizenship verification drive aimed at stateless Muslims in Arakan State—some of whom have other ethnic affiliations, such as the Kaman, an officially recognized group.
Those self-identifying as ethnic Rohingya were required to register as “Bengali” in their application—an assertion that they are migrants with origins in Bangladesh, rather than Burma—or not be considered for citizenship.
Kyaw Zaw Oo, the ANP MP, said that in Wednesday’s discussion, Col. Htein Lin—the minister for border affairs and security—and Win Lwin of the Arakan State immigration department openly debated the issuing of a “pink card” to the Buthidaung Township woman in question, a gesture indicating the granting of full citizenship.
The provision of the pink card was traced to her parents’ status as holders of “tri-fold cards,” the officials said. These documents were issued starting in 1958 and originally entitled holders to equal rights as other Burmese citizens, until the 1982 Citizenship Law re-defined citizenship eligibility along ethnic lines.
Kyaw Zaw Oo claims that there are two short sentences on the tri-fold card stating that it must not be regarded as identification for citizenship; by issuing a pink card, or full citizenship, to the woman in question, he said, the government would be legally recognizing the now-defunct tri-fold cards as a basis for the citizenship of its bearers.
“So, why should they give a pink card to her?” he said, describing the officials’ action as “daring to contravene the law.”
Many of the applications for citizenship by Muslims in the area are based on possession of tri-fold cards.
According to Aye Nu Sein, the vice chairperson of ANP who participated in Wednesday’s meeting, security and border affairs minister Htein Lin promised the ANP representatives that the government would adhere to existing laws, but he remained vague on whether they would terminate the township level committee’s recommendations for citizenship in the case of the group of 29 of the 31 Muslim residents in question, as the ANP has demanded.
On Aug. 17, around 400 Arakanese Buddhist residents of Buthidaung Township gathered at the Aye Zedi monastery to denounce government officials and launch a poster campaign in response to the recent citizenship recommendations. “For sale” signs were placed in front of their homes and businesses, suggesting that they would leave the township if ineligible “Bengalis” started being recognized as citizens, which they say has led to a rise in crime and disputes over land.