09/23/2014, 00.00
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Myanmar grants citizenship to 209 Muslim refugees, even Rohingya

They are part of a group of internally displaced persons fleeing sectarian violence in Rakhine State. Over a thousand Muslims have joined a government pilot program to check the status of refugees. In the past, Burmese authorities repeatedly rejected the persecuted Muslim minority’s request for citizenship.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Burmese authorities have granted citizenship to 209 Muslim IDPs fleeing Buddhist-Muslim sectarian violence.  The group includes representatives of the Rohingya minority which for years has been the victim of persecution and abuse. The recognition took place yesterday, in the context of the first phase of a larger project that aims to determine the status of about one million Rohingya, whose application for citizenship in the past has been repeatedly rejected by the government.

Its members live in the western state of Rakhine, often in conditions of isolation and apartheid; they must ask permission from the local government to move from villages or camps. Today there are at least 140 thousand people who have been internally displaced by ethnic and sectarian clashes that took place in 2012 with Arakan Buddhist.  The Catholic Church in Burma has repeatedly intervened on their behalf.

The government in Naypyidaw and many Burmese refer to Rohingya as "Bengali", implicitly emphasizing they are "illegal immigrants" from neighboring Bangladesh. However, many families have been living in the area for generations and intend to fight to see their rights recognized.

Burmese officials from the Ministry of Immigration reported that 1094 Muslims have responded to the pilot verification program, in the Myebon refugee camp, about 51 km from the capital Sittwe and accessible only by boat. Among the 209 who have been accorded citizenship, some come from the Kaman Muslim minority and others belong to the Rohingya minority. However, the reasons that led to the recognition of citizenship and the exact number of people who benefited remain unknown.

A Rohingya leader reports that in many have chosen not to take part in the identification program, because they would not agree to be termed "Bengali" at registration. Indeed, a large part of the Muslim minority are stateless, because they are not recognized by Myanmar or neighboring Bangladesh. Even UN officials working in the area no longer use the term Rohingya, to avoid disagreements with the Burmese authorities or local Buddhist religious leaders. A decision strongly criticized by other associations and human rights groups.

Since June 2012, the western state of Rakhine has witnessed violent clashes between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya causing at least 200 deaths and 250 thousand displaced people. According to United Nations estimates, there are still 800 thousand members of the Muslim minority in Myanmar, who the government considers illegal immigrants and who are therefore subject to abuse and persecution.


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