As ethnic groups across the country continue to air concerns as to how census figures will shape racial and religious classification in Burma, the All Myanmar Islam Association (MIA) has issued census directives to the country’s Islamic population.
In a statement on Monday, the MIA urged Burmese Muslims to cite themselves as “Islamic” when it comes to the census question on religion, as opposed to answering “Muslim” for the question on ethnic nationality. The MIA has instructed people to identify under their own ethnic nationality, as opposed to under the umbrella of “Muslim”. This would see people identify as both Islamic and their respective ethnicity.
The directives come despite government and UNFPA joint protocol for trained census enumerators to fill out the questionnaire on behalf of participants. As census enumerators undergo multiple days of training ahead of their task, the overseeing government Department of Immigration and Population (DoP) is strictly telling them not to allow people to fill out the forms themselves. That has also been made clear to the general public through census information releases.
On Monday the MIA expressed their confidence that the census would be taken in accordance with UN standards.
An independent commission, International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB) assessed the technical capacity of the DoP, as well as their level of compliance with international standards in preparation for the census. In a February statement ITAB declared it was “greatly satisfied and comfortable with the level of preparedness” in regards to the DoP’s conducting of the March 2014 headcount.
As census forms will be counted by computer, multiple-choice questions are represented by checking boxes corresponding to codes. The MIA stressed the importance for the stateless Rohingya to check the box corresponding to 914 — “other” ethnic nationality.
Despite multiple statements from the DoP that all ethnic groups not featured on the current list of the 135 official ethnic nationalities will have to identify under box 914 — “other”, thousands of people turned out in 13 centres in Arakan State over the weekend to pressure the government not to include the term “Rohingya” among nationality options in the census.
Protest organisers objected to the possibility of the 2014 census paving the way for Rohingya to be included as an official nationality should the current list of 135 be reviewed.