YANGON—An urgent proposal calling for the review of the issuing of more than 3,000 pink identification cards which state the holder is ethnic Kaman, which were recently issued by the immigration department to Rohingya in southern Rakhine’s Ramree Township, was blocked by upper house on Monday.
Arakanese upper house legislator Daw Htoot May submitted the motion on Monday this week but didn’t receive any response from parliament by Wednesday. The following day she approached the house speaker’s office to inquire about the lack of response. She recounted the verbal explanation from upper house speaker U Mhan Win Khaing Than to The Irrawaddy by phone on Friday, saying that the speaker claimed her proposal doesn’t meet the Hluttaw Law’s Article (164).
The article stipulates that an issue related to public interest or an urgent matter shall receive a Hluttaw decision and parliament shall not accept the proposal to discuss the issue if the relevant ministry has already taken action. The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population previously told The Irrawaddy they had no plan to review the case.
“The Kaman party has filed a complaint with the government but there has been a lack of action from the relevant ministry. I have explained those points and urged for a parliament debate to be allowed. I have tried my best, but all my efforts were in vain,” said MP Daw Htoot May.
However, she claims that she will try to raise the issue by any means via a parliament channel. The MP had already inquired about the disputed Kaman ID cards with local authorities and reiterated that the IDs which had recommendations given by Ramree’s Kyauk Ni Maw Village trustees and Kaman community leaders. She criticized the unclear methods authorities used to label the recipients as genuine Kaman.
Daw Htoot May pointed out, for instance, that despite the fact that the names of recommenders in regular NRC application forms appear in Burmese or Arakanese, the applicants’ names apparently had religious Islamic titles such as “Abdu”. She elaborated saying that since late 1990, almost all Kaman people were officially granted pink cards with stating their regional code (11).
She said that during military administration, especially around 1990, the immigration department used to register the NRC applications with abbreviations for each town such as RRE for Ramree, KPU for Kyaukpyu and SDW for Thandwe townships respectively. It is also locally known as tri-fold card.
Surprisingly, MP Htoot May has learned that some of RRE-registered applicant names reappeared among the 3,306 recently issued IDs.
“As far as I know, no Kaman uses Islamic religious names nowadays in Ramree’s Kyauk Ni Maw. If Naypyitaw’s immigration department truly believes that the applicants are genuine Kaman, then let me say that something is totally wrong here,” said Daw Htoot May.
During communal riots between Rakhine and Rohingya communities in 2012, some Kaman were subjected to violence and dozens of their houses were burned to the ground as members of the Rakhine community thought Kaman were assisting members of the Rohingya community in getting the pink identification cards. Hundreds of Kaman were also forcibly displaced and kept in camps for years with authorities citing the segregation was a precaution against further clashes.
As of today, none of those displaced have been allowed to return to their original homes and many Kaman from Ramree and Kyaukphyu townships have sought new lives in Myanmar’s commercial city Yangon and some in Mandalay. MP Htoot May corroborated Kaman social media and Kaman Party claims that by the end of 2017, there were less than one hundred Kaman in her constituency of Ramree.
“Over IDs 3,00o being issued for Ramree Kaman is unrealistic. If they, the Napyidaw officials, are strictly maintaining their stance, this issue will certainly affect the Union in a matter of time. They should review [this case] before it is too late,” said the MP.
She suggested that the government be transparent and collaborate with Kaman society groups and parties as well as Rakhine residents for a re-examination process on this issue.
Kaman Social Network’s, U Tun Ngwe, explained that most Kyauk Ni Maw residents received tri-fold cards during the military regime which gave them full citizenship rights as Muslims. However, the immigration department used the term “Rakhine/Islam” in the application, with “Rakhine” referring to the place where the applicant lives in rather than their racial background. When the military government revoked the tri-fold cards in order to replace them with pink cards, Muslim residents from rural areas in Ramree were unable to return them.
U Tun Ngwe said the government should resolve the issue with transparency rather than hiding its wrongdoings. He said Kaman society and the Kaman National Progressive Party don’t recognize the new ID recipients as Kaman. He recalled that in 2017, some Kyauk Ni Maw Muslims went to Naypyidaw to discuss citizenship rights and requested to be scrutinized in line with the 1982 citizenship law.
He suggested the possibility that the immigration officials might have avoided using the controversial term “Rakhine/ Muslim” in the ID card, replacing it with “Kaman” for new applicants.
“The government should announce this case to the public with transparency. We Kaman don’t want to see a black spot in our history. As you know we have previously been asserted by the Arakanese community who said that the Kaman represent a doorway for Bengalis. We don’t officially recognize the ethnic Kaman but they should be granted citizenship in my opinion,” said U Tun Ngwe.
He urged the government to seek a pragmatic, rigorous approach to create a win-win situation for every group.
The Kaman minority is one of the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups and one of the seven ethnic subgroups of Rakhine State. Unlike the Buddhist Arakanese, the Kaman are Muslim. They have been residing in Rakhine for centuries. During the Arakan Kingdom, the Kaman served as royal archers, but this profession vanished when the kingdom fell to the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784. Nowadays, there are about 45,000 ethnic Kaman Muslims across the country.