By Jared Ferrie
Human rights groups condemned on Friday a Myanmar government plan that could force thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims into detention camps indefinitely if they do not qualify for citizenship.
The U.S. and some other embassies in Myanmar had raised their concern with the government about some aspects of the plan, a U.S. official told Reuters.
Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine state on the west coast of the predominantly Buddhist country, and almost 140,000 are displaced after deadly clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
The government has refused to grant most Rohingya citizenship and refers to them as Bengali, which implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite having lived in Myanmar for generations.
The Rakhine State Action Plan will require Rohingya to identify themselves as Bengali – a term most reject – in order to possibly receive citizenship.
According to a draft of the plan obtained by Reuters, the government has proposed that authorities “construct temporary camps in required numbers for those who refuse to be registered and those without adequate documents”.
Rights groups warn that the provisions could force thousands of Rohingya from their villages into camps where they would be detained indefinitely.
“It is nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country,” Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Friday.
Putting Rohingya in internment camps would constitute a “crime against humanity”, New York-based Physicians for Human Rights said in a separate statement.
“It certainly fits into the government’s decades-long tradition of marginalising and dehumanizing the Rohingya,” said Gregory Polling, of the Center for Strategic International Studies, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.
He said the citizenship verification programme was likely to leave hundreds of thousands of Rohingya stateless, because the government “spent decades systematically denying Rohingya the very documents they are now required to provide”.
Even if Rohingya families had documents, many lost them during the 2012 violence, he said.
“The programme cannot possibly succeed,” said Polling.
The United States said its embassy and other embassies in Yangon had received a draft of the plan and had provided feedback to the government.
“We jointly expressed concern over some components of the draft plan, such as the provision stating that those who do not receive citizenship will be held in temporary camps,” a U.S. official said.
The plan includes projects aimed at reconciliation, economic development, and providing accommodation for those who remain displaced by the 2012 violence.
The government will start building infrastructure including roads, houses, schools and clinics this month, and hopes to resettle displaced people before next March when the rainy season begins, Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Major-General Tin Aung Chit told the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper this week.