Yangon (Myanmar): Authorities sealed off villages for months in Myanmar's only Muslim-majority region and in some cases beat and arrested people who refused to register with immigration officials, residents and activists say, in what may be the most aggressive effort yet to compel Rohingya to identify themselves as migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Immigration officials, border guards and members of the illegal-alien task force in the northern tip of Rakhine state home to 90 per cent of the country's 1.3 million Rohingya said they were simply updating family lists, as they have in the past. But this year, in addition to questions about marriages, deaths and births, people were classified by ethnicity.
The government denies the existence of Rohingya in the country, saying those who claim the ethnicity are actually Bengalis. Residents said those who refused to take part suffered the consequences.
"We are trapped," Khin Maung Win said last week. He said authorities started setting up police checkpoints outside his village, Kyee Kan Pyin, in mid-September, preventing people from leaving even to shop for food in local markets, work in surrounding paddies or bring children to school.
"If we don't have letters and paperwork showing we took part that we are Bengali we can't leave," he said.
Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which has been advocating on behalf of the Rohingya for more than a decade, said residents reported incidents of violence and abuse in at least 30 village tracts from June to late September.
While blockades have since been lifted, arrests continue, with dozens of Rohingya men being rounded up for alleged ties to Islamic militants in the last week.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, surprised the world in 2011 when a half-century of military rule ended and President Thein Sein, a former general, started steering the country toward democracy.
Critics, however, say reforms have stalled. Peaceful protesters are again being thrown in jail; journalists increasingly face intimidation, or even imprisonment with hard labor.
Most worrying to many, the government has largely stood by as Buddhist extremists have targeted Rohingya, sometimes with machetes and bamboo clubs, saying they pose a threat to the country's culture and traditions.