Friday, January 30, 2009

Burma refuses to recognize Rohingya as citizens

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma on Friday, refused to recognize Rohingya - Muslim minorities, as citizens of the country and said they are not included in the multi-ethnic groups recorded by the state, the government mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar Newspaper said.

The statement in the newspaper said, "The Rohinja [Rohingya] is not included in over 100 national races of the Union of Myanmar [Burma]," denying media reports that groups of boatpeople, who recently landed on Thai coast, are from Burma.

The statement by the Burmese government, however, said it will "take necessary measures in connection with the above matter."

The statement came as the Amnesty International on Friday urged the Burmese regime to stop systematic persecutions and discrimination on the Rohingya, who the AI said were living in Burma's western state of Arakan for decades.

Benjamin Zawacki, AI's Burma and Thailand researcher, said the statement by the Burmese government clearly demonstrates its policy on the Rohingya and shows how they are denied the right of citizenship, despite of living in the country.

"They have been made stateless as a government policy. In this case we have a government policy to purposely render its own citizens stateless by saying they are not citizens at all," Zawacki told Mizzima.

"This policy needs to change, it should not be accepted by the international community and first and foremost it should not be accepted by the regional countries," he added.

According to Zawacki and leaders of the Rohingya community, Rohingyas live in northern areas of Arakan State in Western Burma, bordering Bangladesh.

The Rohingyas, according to Zawacki, have been living in Burma for decades but the Burmese government has adopted a policy of "Exclusion" on them.

In a statement released on Friday, the AI said the problem of Rohingya boatpeople needs to be solved at the root in Burma, while regional countries including Thailand should ensure the safety and dignity of the boatpeople, who are being rescued in their territory.

Zawacki said regional countries must pressurise the Burmese government to change its policy against the Rohingya and to stop persecuting them.

"The solution to the problem does not simply start with when they [Rohingya] board the boats but the solution needs to start with why they are boarding the boat and why they are fleeing and their need to flee," Zawacki said.

Meanwhile, Thailand's Foreign Minister on Thursday met UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and discussed on coordinating in solving the problems of Rohingya boatpeople, who have recently landed on Thai soil.

UNHCR told Mizzima that it had received a positive signal from Thailand to allow access to the Rohingyas, who are detained by Thai authorities, to find out their protection needs.

Thailand also said it has also met representatives from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia to discuss on how to solve the problems associating with the boat people.

But Amnesty International, in its statement on Friday urged Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand not to just deport the boatpeople but to assess their protection needs and provide safety to those who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of being returned.

Zawacki welcomed Thailand's meeting with the UNHCR saying, "It is definitely a positive step," but further urged Thailand to immediately conduct investigations on allegations of rights abuses by the Thai Army on the Rohingyas.

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