SITTWE: Myanmar said Saturday that Muslims would not be allowed to register as “Rohingya” in its first census in three decades despite UN assurances, on the eve of a survey that has fanned sectarian tensions.
The move came as Buddhists in an unrest-hit western state vowed to boycott the census over fears it could lead to official recognition for the Rohingya, viewed by the United Nations as among the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Buddhist nationalists have reacted with fury to the fact that the questionnaire includes a section for people to self-identify their ethnicity, theoretically allowing the Rohingya to be registered as such and raising fears it could lead to political rights for the group.
“If a household wants to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya’, we will not register it,” government spokesman Ye Htut told reporters in Yangon.
He said people could call themselves “Bengali”, a term used by the authorities who view most Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Humanitarian workers in the region have come under increasing pressure from Buddhist nationalists who accuse them of bias in favour of local Muslims.
The United Nations is pulling some 50 international and Myanmar staff from the region, while other major humanitarian groups are also removing their workers temporarily.
Long-standing animosity between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine erupted into bloodshed in 2012, leaving dozens dead in clashes and around 140,000 people displaced.
The Rohingya are subject to a web of restrictions on travel, work and even marriage.