16 Feb Rakhine residents rally against ‘ambiguous statement' of govt on white cards

Written by Hein Ko Soe Published in Myanmar Read 2347 times
A woman carries a placard during a protest over what is claimed to be the government's ambiguous position over "white card" holders, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, February 15, 2015. Photo: Nyunt Win/EPA
A woman carries a placard during a protest over what is claimed to be the government's ambiguous position over "white card" holders, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, February 15, 2015. Photo: Nyunt Win/EPA

Residents in 17 townships in Rakhine State staged a protest on February 15 against what they termed the 'ambiguous statement' by the government on temporary citizen identity cards.

The government has announced an investigation commission will be formed to scrutinize the issue of the white cards, despite a declaration that these cards would expire on March 31.

The protests took place simultaneously in the Rakhine townships at midday.

President U Thein Sein announced on February 11 that the white cards would expire on March 31, even though parliament had agreed to give voting rights to these cardholders, voting 328 to 79 in favour on February 2.

Many Rakhine residents say the issue of white cards – temporary ID documentation for people without Myanmar citizenship - is unclear.

Chairman U Tun Aung Thein of the RNP said, "Our party did not lead the protest. It was a protest of the Rakhine people, and they also demanded the removal of MPs who are holding white cards from the Hluttaw."

Vice Chairman of the Rakhine National Party U Khaing Pyi Soe said, "We are skeptical about the plans of the government and parliament as they have not made a clear decision on this issue. We understand this tricky way may lead to problems."

He said people wondered about what kind of document would be substituted for the white cards.

U Ko Ni, a High Court lawyer, said white card holders must be issued with another document, or they will become stateless people, contrary to international human rights norms.

"The citizenship law appeared 33 years ago. However, successive governments failed to clearly define citizens and non-citizens. The five-year validity of the white card is not the way to handle this issue,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Immigration and Manpower, the number of white cardholders across the country is around 1.5 million, with more than 700,000 in Rakhine State, and most of the rest in the Kachin and Shan states.

Most white card holders in Rakhine State are Muslim Rohingya, people the government calls Bengali and considers illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many people who identify as Rohingya claim their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.