During her January 9 visit, Yanghee Lee heard that the IDPs have been living in the camp since communal violence broke out in 2012 and are forbidden to travel outside, leaving them with no access to jobs, education or healthcare.
“Whether they call me Bengali or Rohingya, what I need is a citizenship card,” said Daw Cho, 49, who is active in women’s affairs in Taungpaw IDP camp, Myebon township.
Ms Lee met with Rakhine State Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn to discuss progress towards peace, stability and the rule of law, including the implementation of the Rakhine Action Plan. She also met with community leaders to discuss reconciliation efforts.
U Khin Soe, the director general of state’s Department of Immigration, said Ms Lee had asked about the status of citizenship for the Rohingya. “We told her that citizenship does not depend on race or religion,” he said.
The Rohingya – officially referred to as Bengalis – are not recognised as automatic citizens under the law because they were not present in 1824, at the outbreak of the first Anglo-Burmese War.
However, they can qualify for naturalised citizenship if they can prove they have lived in Myanmar for three generations. The government also requires them to renounce the name Rohingya and instead register as Bengali.
Rakhine MP U Aung Win said freedom of movement had been restricted for security reasons. “Inter-communal tensions are still high, and we need time to build trust,” he said, adding that the Muslim community’s insistence on the use of the term “Rohingya” exacerbated the issue.
On January 14, the NGO Human Rights Watch urged President U Thein Sein to accept UN calls to amend the law that deprives many Rohingya Muslims of citizenship.
Under a government pilot project, more than 1000 people applied for citizenship last September, of which 209 have been granted full or naturalised citizenship under the 1982 law, including 40 identified as Bengalis and 169 as Kaman.
There remain more than 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya in camps throughout Rakhine State.