Home News Burma Burma’s Rohingya Citizenship Problem

Burma’s Rohingya Citizenship Problem

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Download After criticism from international rights groups, recently the Burmese government said the Muslim minority Rohingya ‘have the right’ to apply for citizenship.

Rohingyas born in Burma are eligible to apply for citizenship if at least two generations of their families have lived in the country.

The Rohingya are regarded in Burma as immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have live for decades in the country.

The U.N. regards them as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities - they can’t move to another state, marry or find jobs without government permits.

Banyol Kong Janoi reports from a Rohingya refugee camps in the outskirts of the state’s capital Sittwe.

32-year old Ma Hnin shows me her home on a self-made map.

Her family has been living in Rakhine state for decades but the unrest in June forced them to move into this make-shift camp on the outskirt of Sittwe.

“I was born here and have a Burmese birth certificate. My parents have Myanmar citizenship cards. When I was 12 years old, the government policy changed, we could not get citizenship cards. Instead, we are given temporary living cards.”

The temporary card is given only to the Muslim community in Rakhine state.

On the back of the card there’s a note stating that the cardholder doesn’t have the right to claim Burmese citizenship.

Without the Burmese ID card, Ma Hnin has had limited choices.

“I wanted to take my university major in engineering at Sittwe Technological University. My high school grades met the requirement and I was even accepted. But when I went to the registration office, the Dean didn’t accept my application because I didn’t have the Myanmar Identification Card. So I switched to pursue a law degree. I passed the final year exam, but I didn’t get my certificate because I didn’t have the ID card. I asked the Dean why I wasn’t notified so I didn’t have to waste my time. She said that she didn’t know about that in advance and that she just received the order saying that Rohingya students without Burmese ID can’t get any degree.”

And even after she graduated, it’s not easy to find good job.

“I lost many job opportunities because I can’t show my degree certificate. I wasn't given any transcript or any document to prove that I passed the exams. I went back to the university and asked the Dean to give me a recommendation letter proving that I passed the final year exam. But she said she wasn’t allowed to give such letter to me.”

She worked for a while for an NGO but they were forced to stop because they were accused of helping the Rohingya.

The 1982 Citizenship Law has categories of citizens, and the Rohingya is not one of them.

Under the law, the Rohingya are unable to move outside Rakhine state, marry or find job at government offices.  

Local immigration officer in Sittwe Kyaw Swa Hla says they are struggling to look after all their citizens.

“We can't only talk about human rights. We can’t even protect our own ethnic people and these ethnic groups can't enjoy full ethnic rights. Our current government doesn’t have enough capacity to provide citizenship to all ethnics group. How can we think about those who aren’t even considered as an ethnic race in our country?”

NGO Arakan Project has been documenting human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

Director Chris Lewa believes giving citizenship to the Rohingya will solve many problems.

“I do believe that citizenship is important. I mean many of Rohingya people, the vast majority have been in the country for generations. Even many of them like in Sittwe, they have documents to prove it. So I think these people should have the right to become citizenship of this country. Now you can see when you have one population who has citizenship and another one who doesn't have citizenship then automatically there is inequality there, which fuel discrimination and give empower one side against another. So I think that is the problem to be resolved.”

Ma Hnin has been living in the refugee camp for five months now.

“Our future is uncertain. We don't know how long we have to stay in this camp and when we can go back our home. The worse thing is we do not have a job.”


Last Updated ( Monday, 05 November 2012 14:21 )  

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