Monks and ethnic Rakhine protesters take part in a demonstration against a government push to speed up the citizenship verification process for the stateless Rohingya minority in Sittwe township, Rakhine state, Myanmar, March 19, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Hundreds of extremist Buddhists in Myanmar have staged a protest against a government plan to grant citizenship to some members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim community.
Rakhine state’s dominant Arakan National Party led the protest in Sittwe on Sunday. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been trapped in the city for nearly five years.
“We are protesting
to tell the government to rightfully follow the 1982 citizenship law and we cannot allow the government giving citizenship cards to these illegal migrants,” media outlets quoted Aung Htay, a protest organizer, as saying.
Myanmar’s government refuses to recognize Rohingya Muslims as citizens and labels them as “illegal” immigrants.
Rights groups and several countries have challenged the claim, arguing that the Rohingya have historical roots in the country.
The Rohingya have been denied Myanmar citizenship since a new citizenship law was enacted in 1982, and there have been numerous attacks against the Muslims over the past years. The government introduced the discriminatory law as part of a plan to expel them from the country and cancel their citizenship.
The law distinguishes between three categories of citizenship, namely citizenship, associate citizenship, and naturalized citizenship.
Sunday’s protest took place as Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, recently warned that the country may be seeking to “expel” all members of the Rohingya from its territory.
A panel led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also recently urged Myanmar’s government to close the squalid camps in Rakhine and allow the Rohingya to return home.
More than 120,000 Rohingya Muslims have languished in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) since they were driven from their homes by extremist Buddhists in 2012. Most are not allowed to leave the bleak displacement camps, where they live in rundown shelters with little access to food.
Rakhine has been under a military siege since October 2016 over a raid on a police post that was blamed on the Rohingya. A four-month crackdown on the minority group has seen some 75,000 Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh.