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Myanmar 1st census in decades bars minority Muslims from identifying themselves as ‘Rohingya’

29 March 2014 General 9 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world

The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world

by Associated Press

YANGON, MYANMAR –  Enumerators fanned out across Myanmar on Sunday for a census that has been widely criticized for stoking religious and ethnic tensions, after the government denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as “Rohingya.”

And administrators in some parts of the country — including rebel controlled areas in Kachin and Wa states — said they were barring census takers because they worry the count will be used for political purposes.

Myanmar only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule and self-imposed isolation. No one knows how many people live in the predominantly Buddhist nation. The most accepted estimated, around 60 million, is based on extrapolations from the last count in 1983, that experts say was hugely flawed, leaving out many religious and ethnic minorities.

The enumerators — most of them school teachers wearing white blouses, green traditional lounge and khaki-colored waistcoats — started going door-to-door at 7 a.m. Sunday.

They hope to reach 12 million households by the time they finish their job on April 10.

Their long, complicated questionnaire — a collaboration between the government and the United Nations Population Fund — seeks information that goes well beyond the number of people living in each home, from literacy rates, employment levels and disabilities to access to clean water and fertility rates.

But it also includes sensitive, and highly controversial, questions about race and ethnicity that human rights groups have repeatedly warned could put vulnerable populations at risk.

They are especially worried about Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, who have been the targets of Buddhist mob attack in the last two years that have left more than 200 people dead and sent another 140,000 fleeing their homes.

The government considers members of the religious minority to be Bengali immigrants, though many arrived generations ago, and denies them citizenship by national law.

Worried the census would legitimize the status of Muslims, Buddhists in the state have vowed to boycott it. With tensions soaring, they attacked the homes and offices of foreign aid workers last week, forcing the evacuation of almost all staff.

On Saturday, Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman, announced that Rohingya would not be allowed to identify themselves as such on the ballot.

“It will be acceptable if they write ‘Bengali’ . we won’t accept them as ‘Rohingya,'” he said after meeting with President Thein Sein and political parties.

The United Nations gave repeated assurances that the Rohingya would be allowed to identify themselves by that name. The British Embassy protested the government’s decision.

“The government has committed to run the census in line with international standards, including allowing all respondents the option to self-identify their ethnicity,” it said in a statement.

Ethnic minorities, which together make up about 40 percent of Myanmar’s population, have also expressed concern about the process. They argue they were not properly consulted ahead of the census, which requires respondents to identify themselves as one of 135 ethnic groups. Long suspicious of the government, they worry the classification system could be used for political gain.

In some cases, the ethnic groups listed on the survey are split up in too many subdivisions.

The Chin, for instance, account for 53 of the categories, though many of the names listed are simply of villages or clans, not separate ethnic groups, fracturing the already small group. In other cases, subtribes with different ethnicities are grouped together, increasing the chances of misrepresentation.

An ethnic group calling itself Tai Nai or Red Shan, which lives in the Sagaing region and the states of Shan and Kachin, complained that they were not included among the 33 subtribes of the Shan.

Khaing Khaing Soe, director of the department of population, was undeterred by rebel threats to deny access to census workers.

“We will go to every corner of the country and will conduct the census according to international standards,” she told The Associated Press. “We will not exclude any area.”

She also said anyone who tries to stand in the way of enumerators will be punished.


Associated Press writer Esther Htusan contributed to this report.

Original post: Myanmar 1st census in decades bars minority Muslims from identifying themselves as ‘Rohingya’


  1. Burmese muslims are always in my DUAS <3

  2. If they were christians those nazi buddhist of myanmar would have been dealt with, the same way they divided Sudanese with “Save Darfur” but nooo “Save the Rohingya”…a world full of hypocrites and psychopaths.

  3. Some places animals have more rights than Muslims! May Allah(swt) be with you

  4. What are they doing about that?

  5. Allah does not persecute man beyond his ability. It is his will that we unknowingly carry forward. I hate the “us Vs them” mindset that we muslims showcase. We are part ot the larger humanity. Many times we see only “our” side of the debate and ignore others.

  6. Well said, Shamnas Nasirudeen. There is no reason that Buddhists and Muslims cannot work together, but I see Muslims using the events in Burma as an excuse to condemn all Buddhists everywhere – sometimes even creating artificial divisions between Muslims and Buddhists in countries where none had previously existed. I believe that I am not using overly strong language when I say that this is a damnable way to behave.

  7. Linda… the problem is that the sensible muslim voices are too damn soft. Only the extremists and hate mongers are vocal about their views!

  8. Linda, I’m fed up of seeing these double standards. Muslim politicians and even muslims in general keep portraying anyone and everyone with a different religion as an “enemy”. I’m a Sunni muslim and I have Israeli friends(not just jews, but actually from Israel and Zionist too), Catholic friends, Shia friends and Hindu friends. I mean I dont see the difference other than in our principles of faith. They are honest, kind and well mannered. Primarily they are just human beings like you and me. The Qur’an addresses us a O’ Mankind more than it addresses us a O’Muslims! Why do you guys want to create so much animosity!

  9. That is shocking. Why should Bangladeshi people hate them?

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