Officials Trying to Push Muslim Families out of Hpasawng

By Lawi Weng 20 March 2018

Authorities in Hpasawng, Karenni State, are pressuring dozens of minority Muslims to leave the town, claiming they are staying there illegally, according to local sources.

Six Muslim families reside legally in the town, but another 21 families are there illegally, an immigration official said. He said that under the law, they needed to be on the housing list if they wanted to stay in Hpasawng.

“There are people staying there legally, but there are also people there illegally. We did not say anything to the persons who were legal. We even helped to add their children to the housing list. Those who are there illegally have to go back to their home towns after one month,” said U Tin Tun.

“We told them they need to show Form 10 [residence permission documents] if they want to stay in Hpasawng,” he added. There are 21 families totaling 50 people staying in the town illegally, he said.

The 50 Muslims have been in the area for two years, but the order to pressure them to leave Hpasawng came from the top, according to immigration officials.

Security forces involved in pressuring the 50 Muslims to leave the town include police, immigration and township authorities, according to Aung Zaw Oo, a rights activist based in Loikaw.

He sent a letter to the chief minister of Karenni State yesterday asking for help to solve the problem involving minority Muslims.

“This is a case of rights abuse. They should stop it,” Aung Zaw Oo said.

The Muslim families sell clothes and vegetables, or work as mechanics fixing cars and motorbikes in Hpasawng town.

The authorities met the Muslims on March 13 and told them to return to the townships in which they were born. Many were from Loikaw, but some were born in Taunggyi or Mandalay, local sources said.

Muslim sources claim the authorities did not issue Form 10 permission letters enabling the families to stay because of their religion. Therefore, they may have to leave Hpasawng soon as the pressure from authorities is mounting.

“They gave us three days to leave the town, but it is impossible to do so quickly,” one of the affected Muslims, who did not want to give his name, told The Irrawaddy.

Immigration officials had issued pink cards to the Muslims to indicate they were Myanmar citizens, but other immigration authorities had warned them they did not have full citizenship yet, he said.

The situation began when some people from Hpasawng who disliked Muslim people coming to set up small businesses in the town told authorities to move them out.

Minority Muslims living in Myanmar have experienced various forms of discrimination, including being targeted by ultranationalist monks. Widespread anti-Muslim violence emerged under the previous government, but restrictions on Muslims continue under the democratically elected NLD-led government, as old laws remain in place.