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Citizenship issue complicates Rohingyas’ plight

The Burmese government, at the highest levels, continues to assert that the Rohingya ethnic group living in northwestern Burma has no claim to citizenship rights.

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi walks with Border Affairs Minister Major General Thein Htay at an Economic Development Workshop held in Naypyitaw in August 2011. Photo: AFP“They are not included among our more than 130 ethnic races,” Myanmar Immigration Minister Thein Htay told a Rangoon press conference this week.

Since 1982, the government has classified an estimated 750,000 Rohingyas living in its western Rakhine State as stateless Bengali Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh, leaving them vulnerable to persecution, discrimination and abuse.

The sectarian violence in June in Rakhine State has underscored and brought to the fore the deep animosity existing at the highest level of the government and military toward the Rohingyas. In contrast, the violence has brought forth widespread calls by Western governments for the country to apply an even hand in stemming the violence and finding a long-term solution to decades of discrimination and abuse.

Meanwhile, Burmese President Thein Sein has, in effect, called for the expulsion of Rohingya from Burma. He told UN High Commissioner (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres earlier this month that the UN should provide for the Rohingyas in camps or help to send them to third countries.

“It is totally impossible to accept illegal Rohingyas,” said Thein Sein.

Rohingya were not welcome in Burma, he said.

“We will take responsibility for our ethnic people, but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas, who are not our ethnicity,” he told Guterres, according to the president's official website.

The president called the move the “only solution.” 

“We will send them away if any third country would accept them,” Thein Sein said. “This is what we are thinking is the solution to the issue.”

There are an estimated 30,000 Rohingyas already living in UNHCR camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, after fleeing persecution in Burma.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights envoy for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has ended his two-day tour of Rakhine State on a fact-finding mission. On Friday, he is visiting Kachin State, the scene of continuing clashes between government troops and the Kachin army.
Last Updated ( Friday, 03 August 2012 16:11 )  

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