Rohingya Muslims forced to identify themselves as `Bengalis`

The Rohingya community in Myanmar are being held in squalid camps and even beaten up.

Updated: Jun 04, 2013, 08:38 AM IST

Washington: The Rohingya community in Myanmar, who are being held in squalid camps and even beaten up, have been told that there is only one way out - by identifying themselves as Bengalis.

Zia Ul Haq, along with nine other Rohingya Muslims, was handcuffed and dragged to the nearby railway tracks, and then beaten up by the police at 3 am and was apparently threatened to identify themselves as Bengalis - a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

However, doing so would be to deny what Zia Ul Haq and hundreds of thousands of other Muslims in western Myanmar`s Rakhine State consider to be their ethnic identity, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The United Nations says close to 140,000 Rohingya remain displaced after clashes with the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population drove them from their homes last year. The government has elected to keep them living in apartheid-like conditions, segregated from the Rakhines, in camps they are not allowed to leave for their own security.

The government`s plan for eventual resettlement requires a registration process under which Rohingya are designated as "Bengali”. But many Rohingya are refusing to be registered even if it means they might be resettled from the squalid temporary camps where they now live.

Most Rohingya, even those whose families have been in Myanmar - also known as Burma - for generations, are denied citizenship under a 1982 law that renders them stateless. Human Rights Watch accused security forces of failing to prevent atrocities against Rohingya during clashes last year with the state`s ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population.

Violence last June and October left at least 192 people dead. Sittwe`s former population of about 73,000 Rohingya has now dwindled to 5,000 people confined in one neighbourhood, guarded by security forces. The vast majority of displaced Rohingya are still living in temporary camps.