The Kaman Muslims who left Rakhine State and now live in Yangon show their national identity cards. ( Photo: Kay Zun Nway/Myanmar Now)
By Kay Zun Nway / Myanmar Now
YANGON (Myanmar Now) — A group of 22 Kaman Muslims who came to Yangon from conflict-affected Rakhine State last month are refusing an order from authorities to return to the state, saying they have full citizenship rights and are legally allowed to move freely throughout Myanmar.
“We don’t care if they arrest us. We are not going back. We are holders of national identity cards. So, we assume authorities have no right to arrest us,” Tin Zar Hnin, a mother of one who came to Yangon to be with her husband, told Myanmar Now.
In mid-November, the group left Ramree Island (Yanbye Island), located off the Rakhine coast. They had been living there under harsh conditions in a camp for families displaced by outbreaks of inter-communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012.
They came by car and air, and did not encounter any problems along the way, the interviewees said. After several weeks, authorities in Yangon approached the Kaman National Development Party office in Mayangon Township asking it to pass on an order stating that the group had to return to their camp as they had left without prior permission.
“An immigration official in Yangon called and asked me if we would send back these people according to our plans, or if the government has to arrange it,”said Tin Hlaing Win, secretary of the Kaman National Development Party. “We said we cannot do this as these people have valid national identity cards.”
Myanmar Now was unable to reach authorities for comments on the legal grounds for their order.
Myanmar Now spoke to five of the Kaman, who are staying on the outskirts of Yangon, and they showed their national identity cards, which were issued to them recently through a government initiative known as the Moe Pwint Programme.
The Kaman are a Muslim minority of around 50,000 who live in western Rakhine State; they are among Myanmar’s officially recognised 135 ethnic and religious minority groups, a designation that grants them full citizenship rights.
When Rakhine Buddhists clashed with the stateless Rohingya minority in 2012, some 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, were displaced and herded into makeshift camps. Authorities enforced segregation of the different religious communities and restricted travel for Rohingya on the grounds that they are supposedly not citizens.
The Kaman living in these areas were swept up in the violence and often lumped together with the Rohingya and forced to live under similar restrictions, despite their citizenship status.
Human rights groups and the international community have condemned the government’s persecution of the Rohingya and worsening rights violations against other Muslims minorities in Myanmar in recent years.
Tun Ngwe, chairman of Kaman Social Network, a civil society organisation, said the group of Kaman had come to Yangon for different reasons, ranging from receiving medical treatment and attending universities to seeking jobs and reuniting with family.
He said they had every right to do so, adding, “They all have identity cards. If they are arrested arbitrarily, we will face this according to the law.”
Seit, 39, said she and her young son were the only ones in her family who were on Ramree Island in 2012 when violence occurred, while the rest of her family was already living and working in Yangon. Now, after three years of hardship and separation, she had been able to reunite with her husband and two older sons.
For 21-year-old Phyu Phyu Mon, the stay in Yangon is a chance to start a new life. After failing the last year of high school a few months before the riots in 2012, she was stuck at the camp and unable to continue her studies.
Phyu Phyu Mon said camp life was hard and the families were tired of living on food donations. “We get rice and oil but that’s not enough. There aren’t any proper jobs either, except as day labourers. We don’t want to rely on other people the whole time,” she said.
She flew from southern Rakhine State’s Thandwe airport to Yangon in search of job opportunities. “We didn’t have any problems at the immigration counters at Thandwe airport and Yangon airport because we were holding the national identity cards,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Htet Khaung Linn and Phyo Thiha Cho)