By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – Myanmar’s parliament has voted down a powerful nationalist ethnic party’s proposal for an urgent citizenship verification process for Muslims in troubled Rakhine State, state media reported Saturday.
The proposal, under which more than half the undocumented Muslims in Rakhine and other regions could have been eligible for citizen status, received 154 votes in favor and 228 against, with seven abstentions, in the lower house, according to the Myanmar Ahlin newspaper.
Khin Saw Wai of the Arakan National Party (ANP) had earlier told Anadolu Agency that once granted citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Muslims -- many of whom have been living in internally displaced persons camps since 2012 -- would be free to leave Rakhine, where they were subject to violence.
“The parliament and the government should view the process as a national issue,” she said by phone Saturday.
“In most parts of Rakhine State, there are many people who have no identity or document,” she underlined.
“Without knowing clearly who is a citizen and who is an illegal immigrant, how is the government to ensure national security and the rule of law in our country?” said asked.
Another ethnic Rakhine lawmaker, Pe Than, argued that failure to implement the process would amount to inability to reinforce the rule of law, citing the government’s policy of referring to the Rohingya minority as "Bengali" to suggest they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“They [the government] evicted their own citizens -- squatting in huts on vacant lands in the name of the law, so their excuse for not carrying out the citizenship scrutiny at the refugee shelters for Bengalis is somewhat ridiculous to hear,” he told the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
In Feb. 2015, authorities halted a pilot project for citizenship verification process for Muslims in Rakhine after most identified themselves as Rohingya.
Under the pilot project launched in June 2014, more than 200 Muslims, mostly ethnic Kaman and some “Bengalis”, were reportedly granted citizenship in Rakhine.
Local media reported earlier this month that Rakhine authorities resumed the project May 1.
“It is one of the ministry’s projects for its first 100 days [under the current administration],” Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population was quoted as saying by Frontier Myanmar -- a local weekly publication.
The ANP’s Khin Saw Wai had earlier Anadolu Agency that more than half of the undocumented "Bengali" in Rakhine would be eligible for citizenship in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Act.
“However, [the] 'Rohingya' word would not be accepted at all,” she underlined.
“All our party, the ANP, wants is to grant the eligible Bengali citizenship status, and let them freely move and settle in any parts of the country,” she said.
“This way, Bengali Muslims would have citizenship rights, and Rakhine state would be more stable than before".