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A programme to register stateless Muslim IDPs is continuing at Myebon camp in Arakan State.
The project invites those born before 1982, around 700 out of the camp population of 3,000, to prove that they or their parents lived in the country before Independence in 1948.
If they have documents to prove this, they are in with a chance of becoming a naturalised citizen. However, many do not retain such records.
More than 400 people have been tallied since the project began on 15 June. Those papers are to be sent to Naypyidaw, where a central board will decide who is eligible for citizenship.
According to Zaw Zaw, a Rohingya resident in the camp, the programme offers three choices of ethnic identification to those seeking citizenship – Kaman, Bengali, or nothing at all – making the process “awkward” for inhabitants that self-identify as Rohingyas.
The 1982 Citizenship Law reinforces the much maligned government list of 135 “official” ethnic races of which members are eligible for citizenship. Ethnic Kaman – another Muslim group resident in Arakan State – appears on that list, but the terms Rohingya and Bengali do not.
Reliance on that list has lead to wide-ranging criticism of the 1982 law as an abrogation of human rights, as it designates citizenship based on ethnicity. That has effectively denied the Rohingya citizenship – rendering them stateless.
Local resident Kyaw Thein assured DVB that residents were not forced to take part in the programme.
However fellow camp resident Than Aye said that many people —who may have otherwise considered themselves Rohingya— are labelling themselves Bengali.
“Most of us just say Bengali,” he says.
Critics of the law say the process is biased and set up to ensure Rohingya won’t get citizenship status, yet the camp residents queue up anyway, holding on to hope.