In Pictures: Myanmar’s census bars Rohingya

In Pictures: Myanmar’s census bars Rohingya

By Hereward Holland
April 14, 2014
Muslim Rohingya are excluded from political representation as a result of not being counted.
Myanmar’s million-plus Muslim Rohingya population doesn’t officially exist on government records. Branded “Bengali” and considered illegal immigrants, they’ve been living under systematic discrimination since sectarian violence erupted in 2012 in the coastal Rakhine state.
In the past six months, resentment of aid groups has been building among some Buddhists because of charities’ perceived preferential treatment of the Rohingya, who make up the vast majority of those displaced by the recent unrest. Many aid groups that once provided life-giving support to the Rohingya’s squalid camps have either been banned or forced to flee, their compounds ransacked by Buddhist mobs.
The mobs gathered after a UN-backed national census, the country’s first in 30 years.
The headcount officially began on March 30, despite threats of violence and questions of ethnicity and religion that could re-ignite conflict in an already deeply fractured country.
Rights groups and think tanks advised the government to delay the census or remove questions concerning race and religion because of Myanmar’s fragile stage in transition from dictatorship to “disciplined democracy”.
The UK’s Department for International Development donated £10 million ($16m) to the project.
Days before the count, Buddhist nationalists – roused by hard-line monks – threatened to boycott the census if the Rohingya registered their ethnicity.
In an attempt to keep the peace, the government barred Rohingya from taking part in the census unless they identified themselves as “Bengali”.
The UN Population Fund said it was “deeply concerned about the departure from international census standards”.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
Provoked by hard-line monks, many in the Buddhist community were angered that the government initially allowed Muslim Rohingya to register their ethnicity. The government later barred Rohingya from taking part unless they registered as “Bengali”.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
Ethnic Rohingya, who have lived in the region for centuries, are conspicuously absent from this museum display. Rohingya are also absent from the official list of 135 ethnicities on the country’s census form.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
In the run up to the census, some hard-line Buddhists spread rumours that Muslims were attempting to convert Myanmar from a Buddhist country through migration and marriage to Buddhist women.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
A building owned by Malteser International, an emergency aid group, bears the scars of an attack by a Buddhist mob angered by the removal of a pro-Buddhist flag from their building. Local Buddhists saw this as disrespectful, compounding resentment over the agency’s perceived preferential treatment of Rohingya following previous sectarian violence. Later, a mob wielding hammers marched around town smashing and looting more than two dozen compounds used by aid agencies.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
On April 1, around 200 census workers entered Te Chaung camp on the outskirts of Sittwe. The data collectors were flanked by police and backed up by two army battalions. The camp’s overwhelming majority is ethnic Rohingya.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
Instead of asking the 41 questions of the census, workers asked just one: “What is your ethnicity?” If respondents answered: “Rohingya”, the workers reportedly moved on without registering the family.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
A Rohingya woman watches as census workers walk past her home, refusing to allow her to participate. Participation is crucial, as ministerial positions in local parliaments are allocated corresponding to proportional representation of registered ethnic groups.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
Rohingya children look out from their hut as census workers pass. They won’t be counted, after pressure on the government from Buddhist nationalists – who see the Rohingya’s census participation as the “thin edge of the wedge” towards citizenship, even though officials deny the count would be used for that purpose.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
A Kaman Muslim man living in the Te Chaung displacement camp poses with a card showing he participated in the census. Despite being Muslim, the Kaman is one of the 135 officially recognised ethnicities.
Photo: Hez Holland/Al Jazeera
A census worker practices filling out the pink census form at a training session. The United Nations Population Fund and the national government say the headcount will help allocate the nation’s budget and resources.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( MERHROM) Posted in Uncategorized

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