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Census will try to count Arakan Muslims

Burma's Immigration Minister, Khin Yi, addressing the press in Rangoon on 7 May 2014. (DVB)

Burma’s Ministry of Immigration announced that the census in Arakan State will continue until the end of May, in an attempt to count Muslim populations that were excluded from last month’s tally.

Immigration Minister Khin Yi, addressing the press in Rangoon on Wednesday, said that officials were considering a “don’t tell policy” for those who self-identify as Rohingya. People in three districts of Arakan State remain unaccounted for because they refused an ultimatum to list themselves as ethnic “Bengali”.

“The term ‘Rohingya’ is not recognised in Burma, but if the populations in question are not comfortable identifying as ‘Bengali’ they just don’t answer at all,” he said, “and [now] we will register them.”

Enumerators were ordered not to write in the term “Rohingya” on census forms, and instead to not register those who refused to identify with an ethnicity already listed on the paperwork. Due to the amount of people who remain unaccounted for, census-takers will now be permitted to leave the ethnicity section blank.

The term “Rohingya” is still unavailable as an ethnic identifier.

From the information already available, Khin Yi said there are an estimated 1.3 million “Bengali” people in Burma, and about one million of them reside in Arakan State. This excludes, however, those who live in the three districts that identified as Rohingya.

“We counted over 300,000 Bengalis living across Burma outside of the Arakan state – these people were counted because they did not identify themselves to be Rohingya,” said the minister. “Of the five districts in Arakan state, the population in two districts accepted the term Bengali and so were registered.”

He said the government ensured a “successful outcome” from the census, with a 99 percent coverage rate and a response rate of 98 percent. Comprehensive results will be available in May 2015, he said.

The Immigration Ministry has also reached out to the Kachin Independence Organisation in northern Burma to survey the 20 villages left out because of a recent bout of combat.

According to Khin Yi, 97 villages across Burma were excluded from the census due to “security reasons.”