RANGOON — Local authorities in Sittwe plan to assess the population of the town’s Aung Mingalar quarter, frequently described as a Muslim ghetto, following complaints by local Arakanese Buddhists who contend that the neighborhood’s population has swelled in recent years as Muslims from camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) moved in.
Located downtown in the only remaining Muslim neighborhood of the Arakan State capital, which saw most Muslims driven out in 2012 violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the state, Aung Mingalar and its residents are subject to severe restrictions on movement. Local authorities intend to conduct the headcount next week.
Tha Pwint, a retired Arakanese lawyer who participated in a meeting on Thursday led by the Arakan State immigration department head, Win Lwin, confirmed that the population survey would be undertaken beginning on May 21.
Complainants contend that while the quarter’s official population stands at around 4,000, a government health care program being run inside Aung Mingalar had documented treatment of more than 10,000 people last year.
The district health department denied the Arakanese community’s assertions at the May 12 gathering, said Tha Pwint, who also claimed that many of those who had moved into Aung Mingalar had left for outlying IDP camps or the predominantly Muslim village of Bu May upon hearing about the meeting and impending headcount.
Shwe Hla, a Muslim resident of Aung Mingalar who was present at the May 12 meeting, denied that the neighborhood’s population had grown significantly.
“We don’t invite strangers to live in our quarter,” he told The Irrawaddy. “They have suspicious minds toward us, I would like to say they [Arakanese] are trying to spread rumors.”
He claimed Aung Mingalar had only 965 households and about 4,000 Muslims residents.
Zaw Zaw, a community leader in Aung Mingalar, agreed to cooperate with government officials on the population tally.
“We warmly welcome a check on the population because we don’t have extra people in the quarter.”
Phone calls to both the Arakan State immigration department head Win Lwin and regional government spokesman Min Aung went unanswered on Monday.
Tha Pwint claimed that “corrupt government officials” had allowed Aung Mingalar’s population to grow. He referred to the quarter’s residents as “Bengalis,” the term used by the government to refer to the region’s minority Rohingya Muslims to imply that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Many Rohingya trace their roots in Arakan State back generations, but they are not recognized as citizens and have been subject to restrictions on movement statewide since the 2012 violence. More than 100,000 remain in IDP camps.