UN envoy says Rohingya must get citizenship rights in Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 5:07am


The top UN envoy on Myanmar said the most pressing priority for Muslims in violence-torn Rakhine state, who are considered illegal immigrants, is to get on the path to citizenship.

Vijay Nambiar warned in a speech to the International Peace Institute that unless this is done, the security of the Rohingya Muslims will remain threatened, "and that is sure to affect the international reputation of the country".

Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist nation which emerged from half a century of military rule, considers the Rohingya Muslims to be immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship and related rights, although many were born to families who arrived in the country generations ago.

In the last two years, the religious minority has been the target of bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs. Up to 280 people have been killed and another 140,000 forced to flee their homes.

Most are now living in hot, dirty camps on the outskirts of the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe.

Myanmar finished taking its first census in 30 years three weeks ago but it is unlikely most Muslims were counted because the government said they would not be allowed to identify themselves as Rohingyas on the form. It said they would only be counted if they wrote "Bengali".

Nambiar said the status of Rakhine's Muslim population remains unaddressed despite many promises by government authorities for early action to provide temporary identity certificates, register new births, and allow the Rohingya to move freely.

"The utmost necessity now for the Muslim community in Rakhine," he said, is to have their status verified and regularised, and to obtain a national registration card from the government and then citizenship, which would enable the Rohingya to travel throughout the country and get passports to go abroad.

Nambiar said there are many elements in the Muslim community who are willing to go incrementally in this direction.

"I think that is a better way towards realising immediate objectives, and then gradually move towards using that status to establish a political constituency. That's what would happen in any democratic process," he said.