Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law does not explicitly and comprehensively protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Laws provide rights for citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country “according to law.” Laws related to noncitizens empower the president to make rules for the purpose of requiring registration of foreigners’ movements and authorize officials to require registration for every temporary change of address exceeding 24 hours.
In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement. In September the government amended the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, removing the requirement that persons who intend to spend the night at a place other than their registered domicile inform local ward or village authorities in advance. The new law requires that guests inform local authorities only if their stay outside their registered domicile is longer than one month.
The government restricted the ability of IDPs and stateless persons to move. While a person’s possession of identification documents primarily related to their freedom of movement, authorities also considered race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin as factors in enforcing these regulations. Residents of ethnic-minority states reported that the government restricted the travel of, involuntarily confined, and forcibly relocated IDPs and stateless persons.
Restrictions on in-country movement of Muslims in Rakhine State were extensive. Authorities required the Rohingya, a stateless population, to carry special documents and travel permits for internal movement in five areas in Rakhine State where the Rohingya ethnic minority primarily resides: Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, and Sittwe (see Stateless Persons). Township officers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships continued to require Rohingya to submit a “form for informing absence from habitual residence” for permission to stay overnight in another village and to register on the guest list with the village administrator. Obtaining these forms and permits often involved extortion and bribes.
Restrictions governing the travel of foreigners, Rohingya, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State varied, depending on township, and usually required submission of a document known as “Form 4.” A traveler could obtain this form only from the Township Immigration and National Registration Department (INRD) and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors. Travel authorized under Form 4 is valid for 14 days. The cost to obtain the form varied from township to township, with payments required to village administrators or to the township INRD office in amounts ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 kyats ($38 to $76). Change of residency from one village or township to another in northern Rakhine State required permission from the INRD or the township, district, and state officials. While Rohingya could change residency, the government would not register them on a new household registration list in that new location. This practice effectively prevented persons from changing residency.
On March 28, the President’s Office lifted the state of emergency in Rakhine State that had been in place since 2012. This act did not improve freedom of movement for IDPs and stateless persons, since local administrative orders restricting those freedoms stem from separate legislation. Township administrators in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine State reinforced this circumstance by announcing in April that the curfew order would remain in place until further notice.
Travel restrictions effectively prevented Muslims from northern Rakhine State from traveling outside of the state. There were reports of the government preventing Rohingya living outside Rakhine State from traveling into the northern part of the state.
There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.
Foreign Travel: The government reduced restrictions preventing foreign travel of political activists, former political prisoners, and some local staff of foreign embassies. While some administrative restrictions remained, local organizations reported encountering far fewer delays and restrictions. Stateless persons, particularly the Rohingya, were unable to obtain documentation necessary for foreign travel.
Exile: There was a sizeable diaspora, with some citizens choosing to remain outside the country after years of self-imposed exile. During the year the government encouraged exiles to help rebuild their country, and some returned home.
Emigration and Repatriation: According to the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of September, the verified population of concern for UNHCR and the Thai Ministry of Interior, including those who were unregistered, was 103,366. The government allowed UNHCR and other organizations limited access to monitor potential areas of return to assess conditions for the eventual voluntary return of refugees and IDPs.
UNHCR reported nearly 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees lived in two official camps, Kutapalong and Nayapara, in Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh, with approximately 35,000 undocumented Rohingya living adjacent to the two camps in makeshift settlements. An additional 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya were living outside the camps among the local host population in the surrounding towns and villages. Neither Bangladesh nor Burma claimed the stateless Rohingya as citizens. In Malaysia UNHCR registered approximately 54,400 Rohingya, of whom approximately 13,300 were asylum seekers and 41,100 were refugees. NGOs believed there were many more unregistered Rohingya in Malaysia. At the end of September, the total number of registered asylum seekers and refugees from Burma in Malaysia was 150,226, including more than 41,000 Chin and 39,000 non-Rohingya Burmese Muslims and other ethnic groups from Burma.
According to the United Nations, in the first half of the year, mixed maritime movements of refugees and migrants through Southeast Asia were limited to isolated attempts by several hundred persons trying to reach Malaysia and Australia, fewer than during the first six months of any year since 2011.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
There were an estimated 220,000 persons displaced by violence in Rakhine and Kachin States and northern Shan State. This figure did not include the southeast, where estimates ranged from between 100,000 and 400,000 persons displaced due to prolonged armed conflict in those areas. Accurate figures were difficult to determine due to poor access to affected areas.
As of September the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 100,000 persons remained displaced because of continued armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States. Camps housing more than half of the IDPs were located in areas beyond government control where government forces restricted humanitarian access. There were approximately 172 locations hosting IDPs. Some IDPs found refuge with hosting families, and others hid in forested areas straddling the border with China.
Fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups continued in Kachin, Shan, Karen, and Rakhine States. Ethnic armed groups also clashed among themselves in northern Shan State. Access to displaced persons continued to be a challenge, with the government restricting access by humanitarian actors to provide aid to affected communities. In Shan State, of the 80,000 displaced by the prior conflict, local and international relief agencies reported more than 42,000 had returned. Following November attacks by ethnic armed groups on security forces in Shan State, many displaced persons crossed into China, with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimating them at 15,000 at that time. Since mid-April circumscribed fighting between the military and the Arakan Army displaced approximately 1,500 persons in Buthidaung, Kyawktaw, Ponnagyun, and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State. The government relocated the displaced, who initially stayed in schools, to areas where they could build makeshift shelters within their displaced communities.
Armed clashes between a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Border Guard Police in September led to more than 5,600 IDPs from 22 villages taking refuge in Myaing Gyi Ngu Township (two hours north of Karen State’s capital Hpa An). Additional estimates of up to 2,000 persons sought shelter in border areas and stayed with host communities. A number of local and community-based actors provided support and assistance, including youth groups, faith-based organizations, and private donors. International actors provided support, in coordination with their government counterparts.
Approximately 120,000 persons, including Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, and ethnic Rakhine remained displaced in Rakhine State following the 2012 violence, and reports estimated that security operations in northern Rakhine displaced 30,000 persons. Nearly 90,000 Rohingya IDPs lived in Sittwe’s rural camps, where they relied on assistance from aid agencies. Humanitarian agencies provided access to clean water, food, shelter, and sanitation in most IDP camps. The government limited health and education services and livelihood opportunities through systematic restrictions on movement. Rakhine State authorities and security officials imposed severe and disproportionate restrictions on movements of Rohingya IDPs. Conditions in Aung Mingalar, the sole remaining Muslim quarter in Sittwe, remained poor, with Rohingya allowed to leave the fenced and guarded compound to shop for necessities at nearby markets or to visit outside health clinics if they paid a fee to security services. There were reports that some Rohingya were able to engage in limited commercial activities outside Aung Mingalar. While restrictions on movement remained in place, local residents reported some easing of restrictions on their movements.
During the year humanitarian agencies more regularly received travel authorizations to provide assistance, but humanitarian access to Rakhine State was irregular and often restricted. Humanitarian workers continued to be under pressure from local communities to reduce assistance to Muslim IDPs and villages, despite limited adequate access to meet humanitarian need.
UNHCR noted some small-scale, spontaneous IDP returns in the southeast of the country.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.
UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.
The Myanmar Population and Housing Census reported that there were an estimated 1.09 million Muslims residing in Rakhine State who were stateless because of discriminatory provisions in the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law. The census did not enumerate the Rohingya population in specific due to their statelessness, but according to UNHCR the census number was an accurate estimate of the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Based on preliminary analysis, there were likely significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality throughout the country, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent.
Provisions of the Citizenship Law relating to the acquisition of citizenship discriminate on the grounds of race or ethnicity and contributed to statelessness. Following the entry into force of the 1982 law and procedures, the government released a list of 135 recognized “national ethnic groups” whose members, according to the law, are automatically “citizens.” The government list of 135 official ethnic groups excluded the Rohingya, and subsequent actions by the government rendered members of the Rohingya ethnic minority stateless. The law defines “national ethnic group” only as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. Several ethnic minority groups, including the Chin and Kachin, criticized the classification system as inaccurate. While the majority of the country’s inhabitants automatically acquired citizenship under these provisions, some minority groups, including the Rohingya; persons of Indian, Chinese, and Nepali descent; and “Pashu” (Straits Chinese), some of whose members had previously enjoyed citizenship in the country, are not included on the government’s list. The law does not provide protection for children born in the country who do not have a “relevant link” to another state. As a result statelessness continued to increase, since children of stateless parents could not acquire citizenship. UNHCR and a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations continued to advocate amendment of the Citizenship Law to bring it in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments (see section 6, Children).
The name Rohingya is used in reference to a group that self-identifies as belonging to an ethnic group defined by religious, linguistic, and other ethnic features. Rohingya do not dispute their ethnogeographic origins from present day Bangladesh, but they hold that they have resided in what is now Rakhine State for decades, if not centuries. Previously authorities usually referred to Rohingya pejoratively as “Bengali,” claiming that the Muslim residents of northern Rakhine State are irregular migrants from Bangladesh or descendants of migrants transplanted by the British during colonial rule. In May the government policy began using “Muslims in Rakhine State” to refer to the population. In May the government announced a plan to continue its citizenship verification process in Rakhine State by continuing to issue Identity Cards for Nationality Verification (ICNV). As of December the government issued ICNVs to 3,162 of the 390,000 Kaman Muslims and Rohingya, who surrendered their previous national identity card–the Temporary Identity Certificate–in 2015 at the government’s request. The government no longer requires all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, nor does it require applicants to list their race or religion on forms in the earliest phases of the process. As of December an estimated 2,000 Rohingya participated in the new government’s citizen verification process, applying for ICNV as a first step. As of December the government had not released results, and individuals going through the process had not enjoyed any additional benefits in recognition of their participation. The government continued to call Rohingya to participate, but many of them expressed the need for more assurances about the results of the process. Many said the government once recognized them as citizens but expressed fear the government would either not grant them citizenship or would grant them a form of lesser citizenship, curtailing their rights.
According to the Citizenship Law, two lesser forms of citizenship exist: associate and naturalized. According to other legal statutes, these citizens are unable to run for political office; serve in the military, law enforcement, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. According to the Citizenship Law, only the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.
Rohingya experienced severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The government required them to receive prior approval for travel outside their village of residence; limited their access to higher education, health care, and other basic services; and prohibited them from working as civil servants, including as doctors, nurses, or teachers. Authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them. Authorities required Rohingya to obtain official permission for marriages and limited the registration of children to two per family, but local enforcement of the two-child policy was inconsistent. For the most part, authorities registered additional children beyond the two-child limit for Rohingya families, yet there were cases of authorities not doing so.
Restrictions impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings.
Local security officials in Rakhine State committed violent crimes and arbitrarily arrested an unknown number of Rohingya, according to reports. Many of these reports occurred during October to December following attacks against police and border authorities by local groups and a subsequent security clearance operation. The perpetrators and the reported abuses remained unconfirmed at year’s end.
The number of voluntary migrants departing Rakhine State dropped to its lowest since 2011, with only a few hundred departures reported in the first six months of the year. This significantly reduced the risk to Rohingya migrants who had been vulnerable to human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and other abuses once on boats and during transit. Following violent attacks against Border Guard Police posts on October 9, however, UN and NGO reports estimated more than 20,000 persons in northern Rakhine State began to move across the Bangladeshi border to flee security operations underway in the area.
There were reports of extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, forced labor, sex trafficking, torture, mistreatment in detention, deaths in custody, and systematic denial of due process and fair trial rights in Rakhine State.
According to media reports and local NGOs, on January 11 in Shwe Zar Kat Pa Kaung Village, Maungdaw Township, villagers found the bodies of two young men, reportedly including one minor, in a boat the day after they went fishing. Villagers noted that they last saw the two near a Border Guard Police station, but no investigation took place and the perpetrators were unknown at year’s end.
Local organizations reported 24 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention in Rakhine State, mostly in Buthidaung Township. Most of the individuals detained by the government secured their release by payment of up to 950,000 kyat ($715). A number of those arrested reported authorities beat them while in prison. One man arrested on April 5 in Buthidaung Township reported that officials handcuffed and tied him to the roof of the prison, where they slapped, punched, and beat him and set his chest on fire. Officials released him following payment of 10 million kyat ($7,500). Local NGOs reported widely credible incidents of forced labor, most allegedly perpetrated by the Tatmadaw and the Border Guard Police. Government officials reportedly used villagers for maintenance work and were either unpaid or received compensation that was well below market rates.