Burma Times Correspondent: September 01, 2015
Immigration officials told Rohingya Muslims in Sahab Bazar of Maungdaw North to identify themselves as ‘Rakhine Muslims’ instead of Bengalis and apply for the green card. At the same time, they made threats of a crackdown to root down illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The meeting held in Sahab Bazar has confused local Rohingyas as well as others who were ordered to come from the surrounding village tracts. Immigration officials accompanied by security officials including high ranking army officers presided over the meeting on Saturday.
During the meeting, the immigration officials said there were many migrants from Bangladesh in the area who were involved in criminal and terrorist activities. Naturally the authorities had to be vigilant about their presence and asked the Muslims to hand over these criminal elements. Otherwise the government would launch a crackdown in the area, said the immigration officials in what the audience recognised as a thinly veiled threat.
The government says all Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. In the past, many raids by security forces to root out illegal Bengalis have resulted in ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population.
Authorities also have only agreed to recognise the Muslims as ‘Bengalis’, not Rohingyas as they identify themselves. So it is not clear on what constitutes the dividing line between Bengalis and ‘Rakhine Muslims’.
The term Rakhine Muslims is resurfacing after many years. The ethnic identity of Rohingya is ferociously resisted by many in Myanmar. On the other hand, Rohingya Muslims refused to be identified as Bengalis and reject the green card on such grounds. In the midst of this crisis, it is the first time that authorities are using the term ‘Rakhine Muslims’, much to the bewilderment of the locals.
Rakhine is also the official name of Arakan state. It is still too early to say whether Rohingyas will accept the term. This identity was used by some academics in the 20th century to satisfy both Muslims and Buddhists but has been out of use for many decades.