Burmese Govt Reviews Citizenship Applications for Former Exiles

By May Kha 12 May 2014

RANGOON — The Burmese government is now reviewing citizenship applications for people who left the country for various reasons under the former military regime, according to the minister of immigration and population.

Khin Yi said three ministries were involved in the screening process and were forwarding applications to the President’s Office, which would make a decision for each applicant.

“But the whole process does not end there. There are still more steps to be done,” he said at a press conference in Rangoon last Wednesday.

Dual citizenship is not allowed in Burma, according to the 1982 Citizenship Law, so applicants will be required to give up their foreign citizenship, the minister said. He added that anyone who committed a crime before leaving Burma would not be eligible.

The process of verifying this information will take some time, ministry officials told The Irrawaddy.

In the years after the failed 1988 uprising, tens of thousands of Burmese people fled the country. Many were dissidents, while others went abroad for social reasons or to pursue an education.

After President Thein Sein came to office in 2011, ushering in a series of political reforms, many exiled elites, including technocrats and journalists, returned home. In 2012, some famous political activists returned after the quasi-civilian government removed their names from a blacklist.

A large number of the former exiles had applied for foreign citizenship while living abroad, effectively losing their Burmese citizenship. When they moved back to Burma under Thein Sein’s government, they were required to apply for visas, like foreign visitors.

Maung Maung Than, director-general of Burma’s Immigration Department, said 138 citizenship applications have been received thus far. Of these, the President’s Office has endorsed 43 applications and is continuing to review another 22. The ministries of immigration and population, foreign affairs and home affairs are reviewing the remaining cases.

One applicant, Moe Thee Zun, criticized some of the application requirements.

“They demand in the application that we stay clear of political activities—not only us, but also our parents. I don’t understand this,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“I joined political activities just because of their oppression,” he said, referring to his activism against the former junta.

However, Maung Maung Than from the Ministry of Immigration and Population said the government would not discriminate against applicants with a history of political involvement.

“There are some misunderstandings,” he said. “We are not asking the applicants about their political background. But we ask whether or not they have a criminal record. We do not discriminate based on political background.”

Khin Ohnmar, chairwoman of the Network for Democracy and Development, a Burmese political organization based on the Thai-Burma border, said it would be important for the government to be as receptive to citizenship applications as possible.

“There are many learned professionals among Burmese people living abroad,” she said. “The government must be transparent in its policy for reaccepting the exiles and allowing them to return decently.”

‘They need to declare a general amnesty,’ she added. “It is hard for us to return because they have not done so.”