Several hundred monks and locals from Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe staged a protest in November 2018, calling for a recheck of the Kaman identity cards allegedly issued to Rohingya Muslims. / Min Aung Khine / The Irrawaddy
By HTET NAING ZAW 20 December 2018
NAYPYITAW—The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population will take action against its own officials who issued national registration cards (NRCs) to Rohingya, wrongly identifying them as ethnic Kaman of Rakhine State.
The ministry in September launched an investigation after the Kaman National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Kaman community lodged a complaint with the President’s Office and State Counselor’s Office saying that NRC cards labeling the holders ethnic Kaman were issued to more than 3,000 residents in southern Rakhine State’s Ramree Township who are actually Rohingya.
The investigation of a total of 3,306 resident card recipients in Ramree Township’s Kyauk Ni Maw Village found that 21 of them are not ethnic Kaman, Union Minister for Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe told reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.
The ministry will assign a deputy director to carry out further investigations to check whether there was misconduct by officials in the process of issuing the IDs to the residents, said the minister.
“We will take action according to the code of conduct for civil servants. We are collecting definitive evidence,” the Union minister told reporters at the Lower House of Parliament.
During the Lower House session on Wednesday, an Arakanese lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe urged Parliament to review the issue of the incorrectly designated NRCs.
“I am concerned that stability will be disrupted in a stable and peaceful region by the fault of the government. I am concerned that doubts will arise between different communities. This will undermine public trust in the government. That’s why I ask this question,” U Aung Thaung Shwe told the Parliament.
U Pe Than, central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party accused some Rohingya of attempting to gain citizenship by claiming to be Kaman.
“If they make themselves an ethnic group through this short-cut, there will be many Kaman in the future. Then, they may demand autonomy from the ethnic affairs minister. Their birth rate is really high,” U Pe Than told reporters.
Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution says an ethnic affairs minister must be appointed to represent a minority ethnic group should it be of a certain size in population, and that the ethnic group should rightfully be appointed an official autonomous area in Myanmar.
An official household registration document issued by the General Administration Department in 2013, seen by The Irrawaddy, says only 500 of Kyauk Ni Maw’s 4,300 residents at the time were Kaman. Most of the township’s Kaman have moved to Yangon in recent years.
The KNPP secretary U Tin Hlaing Win has said that the number of ethnic Kaman in Kyauk Ni Maw at present is just over 200.
“The Kyaw Ni Maw community only speaks Bengali. They live according to Bengali culture. They can’t even speak Arakanese (Rakhine) fluently. The immigration records indicate that they are not Kaman and they don’t speak Kaman so this will further complicate [the citizenship problem],” he told The Irrawaddy.
Myanmar government officials often use the term “Bengali” to refer to Rohingya, whom they do not consider an indigenous ethnic group, but rather as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Union minister U Thein Swe told the Parliament that all the residents issued with NRCs are ethnic Kaman except 21 individuals. His ministry has records to prove that the rest are Kaman, and anyone can check them at his ministry with the approval of the Parliament Speaker, he added.
“We checked the documents at our headquarters, and found that some of their ancestors are Bengali or Indian,” U Thein Swe told the reporters about the 21 individuals, adding that his ministry would issue ID cards designating them as Kaman Bengali or Indian Kaman instead.
“We worked correctly in line with the law and have fixed the mistake. We will take action against [officials] who took bribes. As we have done this in a transparent manner, I hope this will help remove the doubts of the ethnic people,” he said.
The Kaman minority is one of 135 officially recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar and one of the seven ethnic subgroups in Rakhine State. Unlike the Buddhist Rakhine, the Kaman are Muslim.
They have been living in Rakhine for centuries. During the Arakan Kingdom, the Kaman served as royal archers, but the profession vanished when the kingdom fell to the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784. Nowadays, there are about 45,000 ethnic Kaman Muslims across the country.