Kaman IDPs Face Discriminatory Restrictions Despite Being Recognized Ethnicity
14 April 2020 — Yangon/London — Burma Human Rights Network has spoken with several Kaman Muslims, who were displaced in Rakhine State during the 2012 riots, who continue to face severe and discriminatory restrictions and degraded citizenship status despite belonging to one of Burma’s recognized ethnic groups.
“Why do authorities not allow Kaman people to return to their homes? The Government of Burma has repeatedly claimed that their policies against the Rohingya have nothing to do with religion but in Kyaukphyu and Myebon we see them using these same discriminatory and oppressive policies against ethnic Kaman who are a recognized ethnic in the country. It is clear that the discrimination is based on religion, as non-Muslim minorities in Rakhine State have not faced any of these oppressive policies.,” said BHRN’s Executive Director Kyaw Win.
Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kyaukphyu Township, who were displaced in the aftermath of the 2012 sectarian violence in Rakhine state, are not allowed to go back to their places of origin. Instead, the authorities are planning to resettle them in inundated farmland. IDPs in Kyaukphyu are largely ethnic Kaman. Kaman are Muslim but unlike the Rohingya, they are considered indigenous to the country by the Government. Despite this, the Kaman IDPs are facing restrictions on their movement and being forced into unfavorable conditions by the state, seemingly only because they are Muslim.
An IDP who lives in the camp, U Aye Naing, said the IDPs in the camp are opposed to the plan other than to return to their home.
“The place where we are to be resettled is about a mile to the East. It is farmland. That area is mostly flooded during the rainy season. The authorities have not told us the relocation plan in advance. On 2 April, they started clearing the area. The head of Township Administration came to the camp and told us that we were to be relocated to that area. We told him that we all opposed the plan. He said those who oppose the plan would face legal actions,” U Aye Naing said.
The farmland where the IDPs are to be relocated is in Gone Chein village. Authorities confiscated the land from farmers many years ago. U Aye Naing said there is no access road to the place where the IDPs from Kyauktalone are to be relocated.
There are 10 townships in Kyauk Phyu. During the 2012 sectarian violence in Rakhine State, many families in Kalar Peik Seik ward in Kyaukphyu were forced to flee to Sittwe and Pauktaw townships after they faced violence. It is the only place in Kyauk Phyu that faced violence. Many Muslims in other wards in the town remained at their homes but were later moved out to Kyauktalone IDP camp, which is situated about two miles south of Kyaukphyu, at the request of the town elders. At that time, they were told their relocation would be short term.
“We do not have any problem with the people in the town (most of whom are Rakhine Buddhist). It was a different situation shortly after the violent incidents. Now, no more problems with them,” said Ko Zaw Zaw. The houses of some of the IDPs are still intact in Kyaukphyu town but some were destroyed by unscrupulous people. Despite this, the government is not permitting the Kaman to return to their homes.
In 2012, the number of people who moved out to Kyauktalone was initially 1536. It was later reduced to 1000 due to death and those who had citizenship identification paper and wealthier households moving to Yangon and other places in the country.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing food rations to the IDPs in the camp, however, for the past year the agency has only given a cash grant of Kyat 500 ($0.35) per day to each IDP, according to U Maung Maung, an IDP in the camp. Originally, security forces had not allowed IDPs to move out of the camp but after WFP stopped food assistance they were allowed to go to the market to buy food.
Due to international pressure, the Burmese Government has tried to close down some IDP camps. In Rakhine State, one of the camps to close is an IDP camp in Myebon Township where ethnic Kaman also lived following the riots in 2012. IDPs opposed relocation as they felt they would be even less able to seek food, medicine, and work.
“The majority of the people in town run their own shops. Now they are not allowed to open their shops. The majority of us are farmers, but we could not do farming like before,” said Ko Aung Myint, an IDP from Myebon camp.
In response, authorities have pressured Kaman Muslims to accept National Verification Cards, a degraded form of citizenship often forced onto Rohingya Muslims, by saying restrictions on their movement would ease if they had NVC. Similar efforts have been exerted on Kaman from Kyauktalone camp who are only able to leave for clean water with NVC. Burma has a discriminatory citizenship policy on Muslims across Burma. This policy is based on 1982 Citizenship Law which has created apartheid like conditions for several Muslim communities.
Burma must end all policies restricting the movement of ethnic Kaman and ensure their full citizenship.
Burma must stop the use of NVC scheme to degrade the citizenship status of Muslims in the country.
The Kaman IDPs must be allowed to return to their homes if they are able and those who have had their homes destroyed must be fully compensated.
The international community must recognize the plight of the Kaman and that Burma’s discriminatory and that oppressive policies extend to the broader Muslim community.
BHRN is based in London, operates across Burma and works for human rights, minority rights and religious freedom in Burma. BHRN has played a crucial role advocating for human rights and religious freedom with politicians and world leaders.
Kyaw Win, Executive Director
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
T: +44(0) 740 345 2378