A new government project to issue “green card” identification papers in Rakhine State, mostly to the Rohingya minority, appears to be meeting resistance or lack of interest, with only 37 people so far requesting the new documents that allow holders to apply for Myanmar citizenship.
By Ei Ei Toe Lwin | Thursday, 18 June 2015
The state’s Immigration and Population Department began issuing green cards, formally called “identity card for national verification”, in 14 townships on June 5. Department director U Khin Soe told The Myanmar Times yesterday that only 37 cards had been issued to date.
“We are going around the state to explain to residents about the process,” he said.
Last February the government revoked all temporary identity cards – known as “white cards” – held by stateless Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic groups. Acting on a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, parliament also disenfranchised all white-card holders, who had previously been allowed to vote in 2010 and in the 2012 by-elections.
More than 300,000 Rohingya, who are officially referred to as Bengalis, were among some 390,000 people out of an estimated 800,000 white card holders across the country to surrender their documents by this year’s April 1 deadline. In return they were given receipts which they are now supposed to exchange for green cards valid for two years.
White cards first began to be issued in the early 1990s as a result of the 1982 Citizenship Law introduced by Ne Win’s military regime. The law established three categories of citizenship that excluded most Rohingya and deprived them of national registration cards.
U Thein Maung, a member of an IDP management committee in Dar Paing camp, said his family of 10 had turned in their white cards but they would not exchange their receipts for the new green cards.
“From past experience we know this card cannot contribute to us getting citizenship status,” he told The Myanmar Times. “We had been living for many years with national registration cards, but the government took them and then issued us white cards. Now white cards are useless and they create green cards. We don’t believe in any temporary cards. We want to be recognised as citizens.”
U Khin Soe said green-card holders need to apply for citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship Law. He said the card also acted as proof that holders could live in Rakhine State. People should carry it at all times and show it to local authorities when asked, he said.
Myanmar has come under renewed international pressure to resolve the citizenship issue since the boat crisis involving thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants erupted last month. Rohingya in Rakhine State suffer severely restricted freedom of movement and limited access to education and health care. Some 130,000 have been confined to IDP camps since inter-communal violence three years ago that also displaced about 10,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
U Tun Aung Kyaw, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative for the Rakhine National Party, which has strong support from the state’s Buddhist majority, said the party had no objections to the issuing of green cards since they were little different from the old white cards and carried no voting rights.
“This card proves they can live under a temporary status. They have to apply for citizenship. That’s why we don’t argue over issuing these cards. But we want those who got citizenship to be able to move freely around the country,” he said. “The government should let them go outside Rakhine state, and should not lock them in the state. We object to granting citizenship to those not eligible to be citizens. But we want those who get citizenship to have full citizenship rights.”
Deputy Minister of Immigration U Win Myint told parliament on June 15 that the authorities were still restricting the movement of people recently awarded citizenship in a pilot project in Myebon township for their own safety.
Applicants for citizenship must renounce the term Rohingya, which the government refuses to recognise. They must also provide evidence of three generations of residence in Myanmar. This will not be easy for those who lost everything when their homes were torched in communal violence in 2012, although government offices may have birth records.
The 2014 nationwide census, which mostly enumerated only Rakhine Buddhists in the state because of the danger of violence, found that 37.7 percent of those surveyed had no form of ID.
U Khin Soe said the government had received 892 applications for citizenship since January. Of these, state officials had so far processed and forwarded 70 to a Union government central committee pending final approval, he said.