Many Rangoon Residents Unjustly Denied Citizenship Cards, Say Lawmakers

By Moe Myint 4 October 2016

RANGOON — Lawmakers in Rangoon’s divisional parliament on Tuesday pressed the government on behalf of constituents facing delays and difficulties in obtaining citizenship documentation, which was attributed partly to corruption among lower-level officials.

A divisional government representative responded that action would be taken against officials soliciting bribes in exchange for the timely issuing of citizenship cards, but countered that the proper scrutiny of citizenship applicants was a lengthy process, sometimes involving different administrative levels.

National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker U Thein Myint, who represents Tamwe Township (Constituency-2), asked whether the government would help residents of the township obtain naturalized or associate citizenship cards.

These cards denote subordinate forms of citizenship, which many in Burma who do not belong to the government’s list of “recognized” ethnic groups must accept, receiving fewer rights than under “full” citizenship.

Another NLD lawmaker, U Hla Htay, who represents Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township (Constituency-2), said local students had been unable to obtain degree certificates or recommendation letters from their universities for lack of citizenship documentation, in cases where citizenship applications had been left pending with local authorities for “several years.”

Obtaining citizenship cards is “very difficult” for many in the township, he said, citing statistics in the 2014 national census that over 1.4 million people in Rangoon Division were without any form of citizenship documentation [with 11.2 million nationwide, 27.3 per cent of the population].

The Arakanese ethnic affairs minister for Rangoon Division, U Zaw Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party, responded in lieu of the Immigration department, admitting that corrupt officials created obstacles to obtaining documentation.

U Zaw Aye Maung said that the Union-level Minister of Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe had already ordered that officials receiving or asking for bribes from applicants to be disciplined—if evidence is supplied.

He urged affected applicants to complain to the government about corrupt officials with “concrete evidence.” If applicants meet all the requirements, and submit all the required documents to the Immigration department, officials are obliged to issue citizenship documentation “without hesitation,” he said.

“If [officials] fail to act quickly, please come and complain to me. We will take action against the officials,” he pledged.

However, he said it was the “duty” of government officials to thoroughly inspect the “background” of all applicants, given that Burma is “surrounded” by highly populated countries such as China and Bangladesh.

He noted that those of “mixed blood” faced a more complex and lengthy process: their applications require approval from the divisional level before any citizenship documentation is issued—or denied. He added that those applicants submitting false documentation or background information will be “punished” according to Burma’s citizenship laws.

The Arakanese ethnic affairs minister went on to describe “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh who had lived in Rangoon for several decades and grown rich from running construction projects, while never applying for a genuine citizenship card.

“Even I have a friend who is Bengali and he has a fake [citizenship] ID card,” he said.

The NLD lawmaker representing Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township said there were students in his constituency who had previously received citizenship cards intended for minors, but had been unable to obtain updated citizenship cards after reaching 18 years of age.

The Arakanese ethnic affairs minister said, “Give me that list, please. I will go directly to the [Immigration] department to investigate.”