Myanmar plans 'indefinite detention' for some Rohingya: HRW

Myanmar’s plans to force stateless Rohingya to be identified as “Bengali” — a term seen as disparaging — for citizenship will leave those who refuse facing “indefinite detention” or deportation, Human Rights Watch has warned.

The Rakhine Action Plan was touted by Myanmar’s foreign minister as a major part of efforts to bring “harmony” to the conflict-torn western state in comments to the United Nations this week.

But a draft document, seen by AFP, would see the state’s around one million Muslim Rohingya forced to take on the label Bengali — which many see as referring to the widely-held view that they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Those who refuse to comply and those without the requisite documentation to complete the citizenship process would be held in “temporary camps in required numbers”, according to the document.

The government would then attempt to “resettle the illegal aliens elsewhere”, it said.

HRW said this would amount to “arbitrary, indefinite detention with the possibility of deportation”.

Rakhine remains deeply scarred by two bouts of bloodshed in 2012 that left over 200 dead and some 140,000 homeless and trapped in miserable displacement camps.

Deputy Asia director for HRW Phil Robertson said the Rakhine plans, which also outline resettlement of those in camps, were “nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country”.

Stateless Rohingya are viewed by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples, with years of restrictions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, including curbs on movement and marriage.

Myanmar’s draft plan echoes controversial comments made by the country’s quasi-civilian leader Thein Sein soon after the first wave of violence in June 2012, when he suggested refugee camps or deportation as a “solution” for the Rohingya.

The new plan says all “Bengalis” should be assessed for their eligibility to become citizens between January 2015 and October 2016.

Many people are thought to have lost official paperwork as they fled their homes as bloodshed and arson swept the state two years ago.

Earlier this year Rakhine Muslims were largely missed out of a controversial census — the first in three decades — because of fears that allowing the group to self-identify as Rohingya would further inflame tensions with local Buddhists.

Buddhist nationalists, accusing the international community of bias towards Muslims, attacked humanitarian offices just days before the census began, forcing aid workers to flee Rakhine.

While many aid groups have returned, conditions in the camps remain dire, particularly for healthcare.