Arakanese Leaders to Propose Detention Camps for Undocumented Rohingya

By Lawi Weng 22 August 2014

RANGOON — Buddhist Arakanese leaders are considering a proposal that would see Rohingya Muslims without documentation proving their right to citizenship detained in camps.

The plan will be discussed publicly in the Arakan State capital, Sittwe, in the coming days, said Than Tun, an Arakanese leader and a member of the state’s Emergency Coordination Committee, and comes as a citizenship verification project is restarted for Muslims in Arakan State.

Clashes between ethnic Arakanese and Rohingya broke out in mid-2012 and about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, still live in temporary camps after fleeing their homes. Arakanese Buddhists see the Rohingya, who are not a recognized ethnic group under Burmese law, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as Bengalis.

The nascent verification process—currently only underway in earnest in Myabon Township—is being conducted by the Ministry of Immigration to find out who is entitled to citizenship, based on how long their families have been settled in Burma.

Than Tun said a proposal would be sent to President Thein Sein asking that those who are not able to provide documentation be rounded up into camps.

“This is just our draft proposal. We will have a public meeting this week. After that, we will send the draft to the president. At the public meeting we will ask for [the public’s] agreement,” Than Tun told The Irrawaddy.

“This proposal refers to all Bengalis who stay in Arakan, including both those who stay in villages and those in refugee camps. This proposal comes from Sittwe, but it will be presented from all Arakanese.”

With Arakan State already dotted with large makeshift camps full of those displaced in earlier rounds of violence, the Burmese government may have to put undocumented Muslims elsewhere in Burma, Than Tun said.

“We will tell him [Thein Sein] if there is a problem to set up a camp for the people in Arakan, he can set up a camp in a suitable area in the union [Burma],” said Than Tun, who predicted that many people without documentation would be found in Sittwe, Maungdaw Township and Buthidaung Township.

“Firstly, they migrated to our land and they were illegal migrants. But they had children, and those children are born in our land, so we cannot say their children are illegal. But, their children are still illegal settlers.”

An estimated 1 million Rohingya live in Arakan State, many tracing their roots in the area back generations. Only a handful of people—who must first agree to identify themselves as Bengali—have so far taken part in the citizenship verification process.

A Rohingya activist said that many displaced people would not have possession of their documents, since they fled their homes to escape Buddhist mobs.

“They killed us and burned our houses. We did not have time to bring documents with us. If the government asks us for documents, we don’t have them,” said Aung Win from Sittwe, arguing that such lost documents should be replaced by the government.

“They should not say that those who do not have documents are stateless. If the government does this in Sittwe, our people will not go to the verification center.”