The Irrawaddy

Parliamentary Committee Contests Full Citizenship for Maungdaw Muslims

RANGOON – A seven-member investigation committee from within the Arakan State parliament criticized the township level National Verification Card (NVC) securitization body, for, as they said, “wrongly issuing full citizenship” to Muslims in Maungdaw District.

The body reportedly issued “pink ID cards”—denoting full citizenship—to 22 Muslims, and offered naturalized citizenship to 37 others.

There are an estimated 1 million Muslims in the region who self-identify as Rohingya and who are today largely stateless.

In early 2017, the state parliament received complaint letters on the issue of citizenship verification in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, and formed an investigation committee to look into the allegations.

The investigation committee is led by the Arakan National Party’s (ANP) regional parliamentarian U Tun Aung Thein, of Buthidaung Constituency (2). Only one member of the committee is from the ruling National League for Democracy—divisional legislator U Win Naing of Thandwe Constituency.

The team spent three days in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in February, but U Win Naing did not join the trip, according to U Tun Aung Thein. The investigation committee submitted their findings to the Arakan State parliament on Monday, with members denouncing the pink cards handed out as “invalid.” Parliamentary debate on the issue is scheduled for Thursday.

Burma’s current citizenship law, established in 1982 under the former military regime, recognizes three categories of citizenship, each with diminishing rights: full, naturalized and associate. The law states that applicants whose families were already in Burma on Jan. 4, 1948—the day of Burma’s independence from Britain—would be recognized as Burmese citizens.

Yet U Tun Aung Thein maintained that “the 1982 law does not state anything about full citizenship,” in reference to the Muslim community in question. Many within the Buddhist Arakanese community, and in Burma’s government, describe the self-identifying Muslim Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying that they are migrants from Bangladesh.

Another ANP committee member, U Kyaw Zaw Oo of Sittwe Constituency (2), said that Maungdaw’s Muslims who can demonstrate that their families were in Burma prior to its establishment as an independent state in 1948, could apply to the central body for naturalized citizenship with evidence as such. Yet this documentation can be difficult to come by, and this level of citizenship does not allow individuals to own land, form political parties, or act as civil servants.

Applications for associate citizenship—frequently described by critics as a second-class form of citizenship—are examined by the central body. It is typically designated to residents who had previously applied for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1948, prior to the introduction of the 1982 law.

U Kyaw Zaw Oo said they had observed a “reckless sign-off” on approval of full citizenship pink cards to Muslim applicants in Buthidaung. He and U Tun Aung Thein alleged that the orders came from the national level.

“The Union government is responsible for this project,” U Tun Aung Thein said.

Hundreds of Buddhist Arakanese residents of the Arakan State capital of Sittwe staged a protest on Sunday against the issuing of full citizenship to Muslims in Maungdaw.

In June 2016, in order to accelerate the issuance of NVCs in Arakan State, the Union government formed a body with six officials and ministers; led by U Thein Swe, minister of Labor, Immigration and Population.

The ANP repeatedly accused the previous ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party of granting citizenship documents to more than 900 naturalized citizens, and full citizenship to nearly 100 Muslims in Arakan State’s Myebon Township.

The ANP again criticized immigration officials last August, when, out of 31 Muslim applicants from Buthidaung, two to three were granted full citizenship.

Representatives from the immigration offices could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

NVCs have been delivered to around 6,200 of nearly 397,500 people who returned the “white cards” they once held. White cards had denoted “temporary citizenship” and were abolished by ex-President U Thein Sein’s government in 2015.