Burma Times Desk Report: 5 January, 2015
The Rakhine (Arakan) State Immigration and Population Department has claimed that 10,000 people in the state are willing to be identified as ‘Bengalis’.
The Rohingya population in Arakan are officially classified by the government and anti-Muslim local groups as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and thus Bengalis.
During the census of 2014, concerned officials went to the Rohingya neighbourhoods accompanied by police and BGP. Any Rohingya who refused to identify themselves as Bengali were arrested, charged and sentenced to long term imprisonments in the notorious ‘Muslim only’ prisons where scores of prisoners have died following torture since 2012.
Rohingya activists say that under such circumstances, it is not surprising that 10,000 people have agreed to be recognised as Bengalis. This would mean that they would be part of the citizen verification process which officials hope to resume on January. The controversial census which does not still allow the Rohingyas to register in their name was suspended in June.
Sources inside Arakan say that many Rohingyas are also confused if they should register as Bengalis and apply for citizenship. Analysts say this will bring little benefit to Rohingyas. In the short run, they will not be allowed the rights in par with other communities as they will not be allowed to travel outside their designated zones and equal rights with the Rakhine community. About 200 Rohingyas who have been given citizenship as Bengalis have seen no changes in their life. They still languish in the IDP camps guarded by the BGP which refuses to let them out.
Alternatively, by identifying themselves as Bengalis, they provide the government with an opportunity to push them out of the country in the long run.
The Bangladesh government has not yet commented on the latest developments but it will be uncomfortable if the Arakan officials continue to identify Rohingyas as Bengalis.