Burma is planning to negotiate with the Thai authorities about including refugee populations living abroad in the country’s first census for over thirty years.
The Ministry of Immigration and Population says it wants to include Burmese refugees living in Thailand, which is estimated to be around 130,000 people, in the 2014 census.
Myint Kyaing, director general of Department of Population told DVB that Burmese nationals living abroad will be counted in the upcoming census.
“We are going to employ two methods to count Burmese nationals living abroad; by gathering information from their families back in Burma, and through the Burmese embassies in the countries they are in,” said Myint Kyaing.
“For the refugees outside of Burma, we will negotiate with the local authorities in the respective countries.”
The upcoming nationwide census will be carried out between 29 March 2014 and 10 April. Myint Kyaing added that every individual living in Burma at the time, regardless of their race and citizenship, will be counted.
“We are going to include every individual; including ethnic nationalities and foreigners regardless of their social status, visas and the passports they are carrying.”
It follows speculation that Burma’s Rohingya minority, which is denied citizenship and heavily persecuted, would not be included in the census. The group, which numbers some 800,000 people mainly in northern Arakan state, has attracted international attention in the wake of sectarian clashes with Burmese Buddhists last year.
Myint Kyaing, who is leading the census project in collaboration with the UN Population Fund, has himself previously denied there are any Rohingya in Burma.
But last month, Immigration Minister Khin Yi insisted that the Rohingya, described as “Bengalis” in Burma, will be counted under the “other” category on the census along with ethnic Chinese and Pakistani residents.
Myint Kyaing said that the government is working to develop a procedure that will allow Burmese nationals living abroad to register for the census through their local embassies.
According to the government, 100,000 primary school teachers and 20,000 supervisors have already been trained to carry out the process.
Ongoing conflicts in Burma’s ethnic minority territories, including Shan and Kachin states, are also likely to present difficulties. But the government says census administrators will coordinate with local communities and religious leaders to collect accurate data.
Burma has only carried out two past censuses; in 1973 which recorded a population of 28.92 million and in 1983 when over 35 million people were counted. Neither census included the Rohingya minority, while many people living in conflict-torn ethnic regions are believed to have been overlooked.
The country’s population is currently estimated to be somewhere between 50-60 million people, although no reliable data was collected by the former military regime.