Myanmar on Monday jailed a Rohingya woman for a year for trying to travel to the commercial capital Yangon from her internally displaced persons camp in the western state of Rakhine without proper documents, officials and her sister said.
Myanmar denies the Muslim Rohingya citizenship, and also prevents them from traveling freely outside internal refugee camps without permission and denies them access to education, employment, and health care.
Ma Hla Phyu, 26, was arrested on May 23 in Rakhine state after attempting to travel from the Kyauktalone internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, where she had lived since 2012, to Yangon.
“She doesn’t have a National Registration Card (NRC), she has only a National Verification Card (NVC). NVC holders can travel after completing application form No. 4 at the township immigration office, and getting approval from immigration authorities,” said Shwe Hla Aung, the administrator of Kyaukphyu township, where the Kyauktalone IDP camp is located.
“She traveled without any approval. She didn’t even fill out application form No. 4,” the official told RFA’s Myanmar service.
“She was sentenced to a year in prison, as she has been found guilty under Section 6(3) of the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act. She is in Thandwe Jail now and she is OK,” said Phyu Che, camp leader at Kyauktalone IDP Camp.
“She applied to travel at Kyautphyu Immigration Office twice, in 2017 and 2018, but she hasn’t had any response. That’s why she traveled without permission,” added Phyu Che.
Haji Kyaw Khin, general secretary of the Myanmar Muslim National Federation said holders of NVCs need state-level permission if they want to travel outside of their state.
“If they travel without getting permission, it means they break the law and they will be arrested,” he told RFA.
Ma Hla Phyu had been living with her family at the Kyauktalone IDP camp since an outburst of anti-Muslim communal violence in 2012 that left more than 200 dead and displaced tens of thousands.
“We have been living here in this camp for six years. We can’t work here and we have only income that is my sister’s teacher salary. We can’t go home and can’t travel anywhere,” said Ma Hla Hla Phyu, the 19-year-old sister of Ma Hla Phyu.
“We want to go to Yangon because it is very difficult to survive here in this camp. We have only rice, beans and cooking oil,” said the sister.
“We have two younger brothers who are in school. We don’t have enough money to survive and to support our brothers’ education. That’s why we want to go to Yangon for working, but we are not allowed,” added Ma Hla Hla Phyu.
“If I can go, I still want to go to Yangon because I don’t want to live in this camp,” she said.
The government says the Rohingya, an ethnicity not officially recognized in Myanmar, must undergo a verification process under a 1982 Citizenship Law and accept NVCs as a first step to becoming citizens.
Rohingya living in IDP camps in Myanmar or as refugees in Bangladesh see the NVCs as unnecessary and instead have demanded full citizenship because they claim their forefathers were Myanmar nationals.
A military crackdown on Rohingya in the northern part of Rakhine state that began in late August following deadly attacks by a Muslim militant group left thousands dead and drove nearly 700,000 across the border to Bangladesh, where they live in squalor in sprawling refugee camps.
In April, Myanmar announced it had lifted travel restrictions on Rohingya Muslims who possess National NVCs, adding that cardholders could get on a path to full citizenship “within five months.”
Rakhine is home to more than 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims whom many Burmese call “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Buddhist majority has long subjected the Rohingya to persecution and attacks and denied them basic rights, including citizenship.
Reported by Khet Mar for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Paul Eckert.