Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Muslim Rohingya minority living in the western state of Rakhine will not be considered as a separate ethnic group in the first population census in over 30 years. For Myanmar authorities, they are not one of the country's constitutive ethnic groups, which puts to a stop rumours that they were about to be granted legal recognition.
Rohingya can still take part in the census because there is a box for "Other" with space for anyone living in Myanmar, said Myint Kyaing, director general of the Department of Population in the Ministry of Immigration and Population.
His statement comes as lawmakers in Rakhine state endorsed a proposal to shut down unregistered NGOs in the state following a row between the Myanmar government and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) over attacks against the Muslim minority, which resulted in the MSF's expulsion from the state.
In the state, Rohingya Muslims have been the victims of deadly sectarian violence involving local Buddhists. And contrary to media reports, they will not be considered as a separate ethnic group in the census set for 30 March-10 April. In fact, "We don't have any code number [on the census] for the Rohingya ethnicity in our country," Myint Kyaing said.
Nevertheless, activists and international organisations have long called for them to be added to the Union of Myanmar's list of 135 ethnic groups.
Since June 2012, Rakhine has seen violent clashes between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya, with at least 200 people killed and 250,000 displaced.
According to United Nations, some 800,000 Rohingya still live in the country. However, for the Myanmar government, they are illegal immigrants. For this reason, they have had to endure abuse and persecution.