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Rakhine MPs seek ‘Rohingya’ ban in census

Immigration and Population Minister U Khin Yi gestures during a news conference about the census, in Yangon on December 14. Photo: Hein Htet/Mizzima
March 05, 2014
Immigration and Population Minister U Khin Yi has been asked by four Rakhine Nationalities Development Party MPs to ensure that ‘Rohingya’ cannot be used as a category in the census due to begin late this month.
The MPs said that if Rohingya were allowed to use the term to identify themselves during the census it could lead to conflict in Rakhine State because Rakhine Buddhists would oppose any such move.
The four, U KhinMaung (AmyothaHluttaw) and PyithuHluttaw MPs U Htun Aung Kyaw, U Phay Than and Daw Khin Saw Wai made the request at a meeting with U Khin Yi in Nay Pyi Taw on the evening of March 4.
“If they are allowed to be listed in the census as ‘Rohingya’, problems may arise,” said U Phay Than (Myebon Township).
“If they list those Bengali people as ‘Rohingya’ in the census, it will be on official records and the problem will be even more difficult to resolve,” he said.
Daw Khin Saw Wai (RathayTaung Township), told Mizzima in a telephone interview that the Immigration and Population Ministry faced a dilemma over whether to proceed with the census in Rakhine State.
“It seems like they are in dilemma; they have to think about human rights, the United Nations and other issues,” Daw Khin Saw Wai said.
“But the Rakhine people will not accept those Bengali people being listed in the census as ‘Rohingya’; if they do, conflict will arise for sure,” she said.
Daw Khin Saw Wai said that with the census drawing nearer, U Khin Yi was worried about Rakhine State.
She said the minister was doing his best to ensure that ‘Rohingya’ not be used as an ethnic category in the census.
U Khin Yi has not responded directly to the request from the four MPs.
The Deputy Minister for Immigration and Population, U Win Myint, told the Amyotha Hluttaw on February 24 that citizens would be able to list their ethnicity in the census according to their own desire.
The census, due to be conducted from March 30 to April 30, will be the first in Myanmar in 30 years. As well as providing a precise national population figure, census data will be invaluable for national planning and development.
However, concerns about the process have been raised by ethnic groups and organizations such as the Brussels-based think-tank, the International Crisis Group.
In a February 12 report, the ICG warned that the census process was “ill-advised” and “fraught with danger” and suggested it be postponed.
The ICG report said issues of ethnicity, religion and citizenship form a “particularly potent mix” in Rakhine State and could be exacerbated by the census.
A postponement was also suggested in a letter sent by 30 ethnic and religious groups on December 16 to Ms Janet Jackson, the country representative of the UN population agency, the UNFPA, which has provided planning and other assistance to the government for the census.
The UNFPA is known to have commissioned an American specialist on Myanmar, Associate Professor Mary Callahan of the University of Washington, Seattle, to write a political risk assessment of the census.