Census takers in predominately Buddhist Burma are reportedly turning their backs on members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. The Burmese government is conducting its first census since 1983, under the auspices of the UN’s Population Fund, which has contributed much of the estimated $74 million in funding along with other international donors. The Guardian reports:
“In the violence-scarred state of Rakhine, census workers were asking households to identify their ethnicity. When the answer was “Rohingya,” they reportedly said thank you, turned around, and walked away. […]The UN agency said it had received assurances from the government that everyone in the country would be allowed to self-identify their ethnicity.On the eve of the census, however, the presidential spokesman Ye Htut announced that anyone who called themselves Rohingya would not be counted. Though many members of the religious minority were born in Burma to families who arrived generations ago, the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”
Though Burma has seen recent democratic and economic reforms, the Rohingya still suffer persecution. They have no legal status and are denied recognition and citizenship by the Burmese state. According to The Guardian, 280 Rohingya have been killed during the past two years, and 140,000 have fled their homes. Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been silent about their plight. Perhaps this new international controversy will help lead to a redress of wrongs for the Rohingya.