THURSDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2012
Ethnic Rohingya from western Burma’s Arakan State say that Burmese authorities in the Thai border town of Ranong have refused to issue them the documents they need to work in Thailand legally.
Around 20 Rohingya currently working on the Thai resort island of Phuket said that they have been unable to obtain “border passports” because local Burmese authorities have refused to recognize them as Burmese citizens.
“They said we were lucky they didn’t catch us in Kawthaung [opposite Ranong on the Burmese side of the border], or they would have had us thrown in prison,” said Maung Oo, a 35-year-old Rohingya man from Buthidaung Township in Arakan State.
“For us, it is difficult to stay in any country. Even in Bangladesh, India or Thailand,” he added.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from western Arakan State, near Burma’s border with Bangladesh. Denied recognition as one of the country’s more than 130 ethnic groups, they face persecution at home, forcing many to flee to other Asian countries.
According to Maung Oo, other Muslims he spoke to from Moulmein, the capital of southern Burma’s Mon State, were issued passports. Only Muslims from Arakan State were rejected, he said.
“I was born in Burma and went to a Burmese school. I speak Burmese and am a Burmese citizen, but they still wouldn’t give me a passport,” said Sa Pwint, another Rohingya from Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State.
Sa Pwint said he and two friends went to the border twice to apply for passports, and were rejected both times because they came from Arakan State, even though they had documents to prove that they were Burmese citizens.
“They just said that all of our documents were fake,” he said.
Nai Nyan, an ethnic Mon man who currently works in Thailand’s Trat Province, said that when he went to Ranong to get a border passport, three Muslim women who traveled on the same bus were refused the documents.
“One woman cried in front of me. It was very sad to see,” said Nai Nyan.
Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program for the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, confirmed that the practice of denying border passports to Muslims from Arakan State appears to be widespread.
“I have previously received similar information, as have networks I work with, that people of Muslim ethnicity/descent … were refused nationality verification (NV) temporary passports by [Burmese] authorities when questioned at the government’s three NV centers in Ranong, Myawaddy and Tachilek if they said they were from Arakan State,” said Hall in an email.
Photo : AP