July 07, 2014 6:38 AM ׀ VOA News
BANGKOK —The Muslim stateless residents of northern Rakhine state have long identified themselves as “Rohingya,” a term recognized by the United Nations, and foreign nations, including the United States.
But not by Myanmar’s government. Instead, authorities are asking them to register as “Bengalis.”
Myanmar’s immigration department plans to carry out a controversial citizenship verification process in Rakhine state where there have been deadly ethnic and religious clashes since 2012.
The government said the process is aimed at determining who qualifies to become a naturalized citizen. But many of those being asked to participate express concern it will classify them as illegal immigrants.
Shwe Maung, an ethnic Rohingya member of parliament, said those being asked to register are hesitant to do so because they fear registering as Bengali will negatively impact their chances for full citizenship.
He said there is no trust in the process, which he said could officially classify more than 1 million people as stateless, some of whom have been living in Myanmar for generations.
“If they are ‘Bengali,’ the process will be as for foreigners, according to the 1982 law, I think therefore, Myanmar border police want, as with the census, the people to write themselves in as Bengali,” Maung said.
Maung said he has raised concerns about partial citizenship rights in parliament, but the issue is pending.