Aung Mingalar Headcount Finds Population Steady: Sources

By Moe Myint 23 May 2016

RANGOON — Local authorities and community leaders have completed a headcount of those living in the Muslim quarter of the Arakan State capital Sittwe, finding little to indicate, as was claimed, that the neighborhood’s population had swelled in recent years.

Often described as the city’s “Muslim ghetto,” the Aung Mingalar quarter is the last majority-Muslim enclave in Sittwe, with most of the capital’s other Muslims having fled inter-communal violence in 2012 that largely pitted the state’s Muslim Rohingya minority against Arakanese Buddhists.

Complainants last week argued that Aung Mingalar’s official population of just over 4,000 people was not reflective of the reality on the ground, where they claimed a government health care program being run inside the quarter had documented treatment of more than 10,000 people last year.

The weekend headcount was led by state Border and Security Affairs Minister Htein Lin and the Arakan State Immigration Department head Win Lwin.

Shwe Hla, a Muslim resident of Aung Mingalar who collaborated with authorities during the two-day tally, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they counted 4,003 Muslims across five quarters; majority-Muslim Aung Mingalar, and four other quarters where Muslims are a minority—Maw Like, Kyaung Gyi Street, Ka Thae and Kon Tan. The figure was little changed compared with the post-2012 violence population.

“Everything is fine here. The examination was successfully completed,” Shwe Hla said.

The Irrawaddy phoned the state border and security affairs minister on Monday morning, but his personal assistance declined to confirm the results of the headcount and referred calls to Immigration Department head Win Lwin. Win Lwin’s mobile phone was switched off and an office number was out of network on Monday.

The Arakanese community leader Than Htun, who cooperated with authorities in the headcount, admitted that there was no appreciable rise in Aung Mingalar’s Muslim population, but he speculated that the alleged interlopers may have left the quarter for internally displaced persons (IDP) camps outside the city upon hearing of the planned headcount last week. Than Htun declined to reveal the exact population tally.

While most of Aung Mingalar’s residents are Rohingya Muslims, the other four neighborhoods surveyed include a mix of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, but the tally over the weekend targeted only Muslims.

Aung Mingalar resident Zaw Zaw said: “Hindu people live on the street next to us, but they were not investigated. It was an inspection exclusively on Muslims.”

Zaw Zaw said local Muslims were concerned about rumors that the regional government planned to evict Aung Mingalar residents and relocate the population to IDP camps or elsewhere on Sittwe’s outskirts.

Tuesday should address those fears one way or another, he said, with authorities having called a meeting to discuss the weekend headcount.

“We are invited to attend a meeting tomorrow, which is related to the headcount; Minister Htein Lin will lead it,” Zaw Zaw said on Monday.

A policy of Burma’s previous military-backed government remains in effect, restricting movement into and out of Aung Mingalar.