Fewer than two dozen of some 3,300 National Registration Cards that Myanmar officials issued to ethnic Kaman residents of a village tract in Rakhine state’s Ramree township were erroneously given to Rohingya Muslims, the country’s immigration minister said Wednesday in response to a complaint by a Kaman political party.
During a discussion on the NRCs at a session of the lower house of the national parliament, Minister Thein Swe said that an investigation by immigration officials indicated that 21 of the 3,306 NRCs issued to residents of Kyauk Ni Maw village this year were mistakenly issued to non-Kamans.
“We reviewed these people and the reasons for issuing them NRCs [and] found that all except for 21 people from nine households have sufficient information and documents to be issued NRCs,” Thein Swe said.
The parliamentary meeting on the NRCs came at the request of Aung Thaung Shwe, an ethnic Rakhine lawmaker who represents Rakhine state’s Buthidaung constituency, who asked legislators to discuss the alleged issuance of the cards to Rohingya in the village tract between December 2017 and August 2018.
The investigation by immigration officials was launched in September after the Kaman National Progressive Party [KNPP] filed a complaint with the offices of President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi that NRCs had been inappropriately issued to Rohingya Muslims in Ramree township.
The KNPP said earlier that though there are about 200 of a total 7,000 Muslims in Kyauk Ni Maw village tract who are authentic Kaman based on voter records from the 2015 general elections, more than 3,300 villagers have IDs listing them as Kaman.
NRCs, also known as pink cards, grant full citizenship rights to those to whom they are issued in line with Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law.
Immigration officials investigate
Thein Swe said in September that immigration officials would look into allegations that more than 3,000 Rohingya in in southern Rakhine state’s Ramree township had been erroneously issued NRCs that identified them as ethnic Kaman.
That same month, the Rakhine state parliament urged the Union Government of Myanmar to suspend the ID card process for Rohingya Muslims in the multiethnic state, arguing that state officials have been falsely registering them as members of the ethnic Kaman group.
The Rohingya are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are not listed as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, whereas the predominantly Muslim Kamans are an official ethnic minority.
The Rohingya can obtain National Verification Cards, documents that are a part of the government’s effort to register member of the minority group, though they do not confer citizenship.
Ethnic Rakhine locals and Rakhine political parties, however, contend that most of the 3,306 who obtained NRCs are “Bengalis,” a derogatory term for the Rohingya used in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, and have rejected the issuance of the cards to them.
“The immigration minister admitted that 21 people were issued NRCs mistakenly and that officials will take action against those who are responsible,” said Aung Thaung Shwe, a member of the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of ethnic Rakhine people who live in the state.
“These Bengalis can become not only citizens, but also ethnics [officially recognized by Myanmar],” he said. “Both Rakhines and Kamans have rejected this. They have a responsibility to ensure that those who shouldn’t become citizens don’t become citizens, as it is not only a citizenship issue, but also an ethnic issue.”
“If they [the Rohingya] become Kaman, it means they become ethnics,” he said. “We are worried very much about this. That’s why I raised the issue at the parliamentary session.”
About 45,000 ethnic Kaman Muslims live in Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine state’s Thandwe, Kyaukphyu, Ramree, Sittwe, and Myebon townships in Rakhine, as well as in the towns of Yangon and Mandalay, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.
Rohingya in Bangladesh
During a break in the discussions, Thein Swe said that about 22,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have registered to return to Myanmar under a 13-month-old repatriation agreement by the two countries that has yet to get underway.
Government officials have been checking those whose names appear on a list provided by Bangladesh, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will inform Dhaka about how many it has verified as eligible for return, he said.
More than 725,000 Rohingya fled from northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh during a brutal military crackdown that began in August 2017.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.