NVC Holders Granted Limited Freedom of Movement in Northern Arakan State

By Moe Myint 14 March 2017

RANGOON – Maungdaw District administrator U Ye Htut confirmed that national verification card (NVC) holders from Arakan State’s Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are officially allowed to travel to the Bangladeshi border and within the local region.

According to U Ye Htut, providing access to freedom of movement for NVC holders is government policy. Yet while they might be allowed to travel within Maungdaw and Buthidaung, visiting areas like the state capital Sittwe and other Arakan State townships as an NVC holder requires a travel permit from the state government.

NVC holders from other townships also need permission from the state government if they want to visit Maungdaw Township, U Ye Htut added.

Border crossing with a cargo boat has been granted to members of the Maungdaw Border Trade Chamber of Commerce; others need a recommendation from the trade association. Travelers can spend a maximum of seven days in Bangladesh.

Cross-border trading between Maungdaw and Bangladesh halted after militants attacked three border police outposts in Burma in October of last year, killing nine policemen. The government reopened the trading zone in late December, and ports of entry resumed services in mid-February, according to regional ministry of commerce official U Khin Kyaw Myint.

District administrator U Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that approximately 3,000 Muslims in the district’s townships have received the NVC documents. They are being distributed to people who will later be scrutinized for eligibility for citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law, which defines citizenship along ethnic lines. But the majority of the estimated 300,000-plus Maungdaw Muslims—most of whom self-identify as Rohingya—have long objected to the government’s NVC project, with complaints dating back to the previous military-backed government, which had required them to identify as “Bengali,” in order to get the document, implying that they were migrants from Bangladesh.

The current NVC process omits holders’ ethnicity and religion, which has led to a rejection of the document by many Rohingya Muslim villagers, who demand this basic recognition.

The Arakan National Party’s (ANP) Maungdaw Township chairman U Khin Maung Than said that both Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim people from Maungdaw needed to bring household registration and identification documents to authorities in order to obtain a short-term visa permit to enter Bangladesh, valid for one year. The cost, he said, is around 15,000 kyats.

On the granting of border crossing permission to NVC holders, the ANP’s U Khin Maung Than described it as “a good program and very helpful to the authorities to scrutinize people.”

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi authorities have reportedly restricted access to the Teknaf District on the Arakan State border, said U Khin Maung Than. The Irrawaddy could reach Bangladeshi officials for comment at the time of publication.

U Maung Maung, a Muslim resident of Nga Khu Ya village in northern Maungdaw, told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Tuesday that the situation on the ground had calmed and that villagers could travel to Maungdaw town, but that entry to Bangladesh—a common trip for those engaging in trade and small business ventures—remained difficult for Muslim residents of the area.

The authorities had not yet given NVCs to those in Nga Khu Ya, U Maung Maung said. Residents were reportedly told by the village administrator that government officials would come to issue NVCs in April.

“I think villagers would accept it, if [the NVC] gives freedom of movement,” U Maung Maung said, in response to whether the villagers would adopt the national verification cards even if they fail to identify holders as Rohingya Muslims.

In June 2016, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government formed a government body with six officials and ministers led by Union Minister U Thein Swe of Labor, Immigration and Population, in order to issue national verification cards (NVC) to stateless Muslim Rohingya in Arakan State.

According to a statement from the President’s Office, the NVC has been issued to around 6,200 of nearly 397,500 people who returned the “white cards” they once held, which had denoted “temporary citizenship” and were canceled by the former U Thein Sein-led government in 2015.