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Travel restrictions defended in parliament

A temporary ID card, or 'white-card' (Photo: DVB)

Burmese immigration authorities have denied that the imposition of travel limitations on those who hold temporary ID cards is a human rights violation.

“In accordance with Article 13(1c) of the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules, temporary identification cards are issued to ethnic groups that inhabit the border regions of Burma, including Arakan State, who share physical features, language and traditions with ethnicities of neighbouring countries, before they can be verified under the Citizenship Law,” Deputy Immigration Minister Win Myint told Monday’s parliamentary lower house session.

The procedure is based on a directive issued under the former ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in the 1990s, he said.

Kyaukphyu Township MP Ba Shein raised the issue, questioning the motives behind restricting the movement of some Arkanese and “Bengali” – a term often used to describe the Rohingya ethnic minority – people whose movements are confined within certain areas.

Win Myint responded that the travel restrictions for temporary ID card holders, commonly known as ‘white-cards’, are in place to ensure their security and rule of law in the country. The restrictions are not intended as a rights violation, he said.

Former white-card holders who have now been granted citizenship are not subject to travel restrictions, the deputy minister said.

President Thein Sein’s regime has been accused of limiting the freedom of movement of members of ethnic and religious minorities in the past, particularly Burma’s Muslim population. In 2013, local sources claimed that the government had stepped up travel restrictions on Muslims in Arakan State, including preventing Kaman Muslims, who are Burmese citizens, from travelling outside their townships. Sittwe’s Muslim quarter, Aung Mingalar, was reportedly completely isolated from foreign journalists.

Meanwhile, it was also reported in state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar on 16 June that the deputy minister told the lower house that children born to a Burmese national and a foreigner will be able to apply for ‘associate citizenship’, which entitles the bearer to a green identification card. It is unclear if this only applies to those born outside of the country.

Recently released results from Burma’s 2014 nationwide census indicated that more than 11 million people in Burma have never had any form of official identification.