Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stateless "Burmese"

Definition of statelessness(from wikipedia)

Statelessness is the legal and social concept of a person lacking belonging (or a legally enforceable claim) to any recognised state. Statelessness is not always the same as lack of citizenship.

De jure statelessness is where there exists no recognised state in respect of which the subject has a legally meritorious basis to claim nationality.

De facto statelessness is where the subject may have a legally meritorious claim but is precluded from asserting it because of practical considerations such as cost, circumstances of civil disorder, or the fear of persecution.

Statelessness most commonly affects refugees although not all refugees are stateless, and not all stateless persons may be able to qualify as refugees. Refugee status entails the extra requirements that the refugee is outside their country of nationality (or country of habitual residence if stateless), and is deserving of asylum based upon a well-founded fear of persecution for categorized reasons which make him/her unwilling or unable to avail the protection of that country.

A stateless Person

A stateless person is someone with no citizenship or nationality. It may be because the state that gave their previous nationality has ceased to exist and there is no successor state or their nationality has been repudiated by their own state, effectively making them refugees. People may be stateless also if they are members of a group which is denied citizen status in the country on whose territory they are born, if they are born in disputed territories, if they are born in an area ruled by an entity whose independence is not internationally recognized, or if they are born on territory over which no modern state claims sovereignty.

(source: wikipeida)

Nationality is a legal bond between a state and an individual, and statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any state. Although stateless people may sometimes also be refugees, the two categories are distinct and both groups are of concern to UNHCR.

UNHCR estimates that about 12 million people are stateless in dozens of developed and developing countries around the world, though the exact numbers are not known.

Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons including discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislation, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent (state succession) and conflicts of laws between states.

Statelessness is a massive problem that affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide. Statelessness also has a terrible impact on the lives of individuals. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights,including medical care and education for children.

Given the seriousness of the problem, the UN in 1954 adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons

Yet the problem can be prevented through adequate nationality legislation and procedures as well as universal birth registration. UNHCR has been given a mandate to work with governments to prevent statelessness from occurring, to resolve those cases that do occur and to protect the rights of stateless persons. A first step is for states to ratify and implement the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

(source: UNHCR)

Burma's stateless people

Burma (or Myanmar) is an ethnically diverse nation with 135 distinct ethnic groups officially recognized by the Burmese government. These are grouped into eight "major national ethnic races":

1. Kachin
2. Kayah
3. Kayin
4. Chin
5. Mon
6. Bamar
7. Rakhine
8. Shan

The "major national ethnic races" are grouped primarily according to region rather than linguistic or ethnic affiliation, as for example the Shan Major National Ethnic Race includes 33 ethnic groups speaking languages in at least four widely differing language families.

There are at least 6 groups of stateless persons originating in Burma, the Rohingya ; native born but non-indigenous people, such as Burmese Indians, Burmese Chinese, Panthay, Anglo Burmese; as well as children born in Thailand or oversea of Burmese parents. Many unrecognised ethnic groups exist, the largest being;

1. Burmese Chinese(except Kokang Chinese who are recognized by Burma)
2. Panthay - Chinese Muslims (who together with Burmese Chinese form 3% of the population)
3. Burmese Indians (who form 2% of the population),
4. Anglo-Burmese,
5. Rohingya or Chittagonian Bengali Muslims.

There are no official statistics regarding the population of the latter two groups, although unofficial estimates place around 52,000 Anglo-Burmese in Burma with around 1.6 million outside of the country.


In 1989, colour-coded Citizens Scrutiny Cards (CRCs) were introduced: pink cards for full citizens, blue for associate citizens and green for naturalized citizens. The Arakanese Rohingyas were not issued any cards. In 1995, the Burmese authorities started issuing them with a Temporary Registration Card (TRC), a white card, which did not specify nationality, pursuant to the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act. The TRC does not mention the bearer’s place of birth and cannot be used to claim citizenship. The family list, which every family residing in Burma possesses, only records family members and their date of birth. It does not indicate the place of birth and therefore provides no official evidence of birth in Burma – and so perpetuates their statelessness, according to a report of Chris Lewa from Arakan Project, “North Arakan: an open prison for the Rohingya in Burma.”

According to Aung Htoo of the Burma Lawyers’ Council, “everyone can get an identity card.” Most of the people registering are being given what are known as “white cards” for their colour, temporary identity certificates allowing non-citizens to travel through the country. The temporary cards are good for five years and the government has promised that they will be exchanged for permanent citizenship cards after the 2010 general elections.
(source: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/5220186-above-18-year-olds-to-apply-for-citizens-scrutiny-cards-crcs-tpdc)

1.Burmese Indians

Burmese Indians are a group of people of Indian subcontinental ethnicity who live in Myanmar (Burma). While Indians have lived in Burma for many centuries, most of the ancestors of the current Burmese Indian community emigrated to Burma from the start of British rule in the mid 19th century to the separation of British Burma from British India in 1937. During British times, ethnic Indians formed the backbone of the government and economy serving as soldiers, civil servants, merchants and moneylenders. A series of anti-Indian riots beginning in 1930 and mass emigration during the Japanese occupation of Burma followed by the forced expulsion of 1962 left ethnic Indians with a much reduced role in Burma.

Ethnic Indians today account for approximately 2% (about 950,000) of the population of Burma and are concentrated largely in the two major cities (Yangon and Mandalay) and old colonial towns (Pyin U Lwin and Kalaw). They are largely barred from the civil service and military and are disenfranchised by being labeled as 'foreigners' and 'non-citizens' of Burma. Amongst the well-known Burmese Indians is S. N. Goenka, a leading practitioner and teacher of the vipassanā meditation technique and Helen, a well-known Bollywood film actress.

The term "Burmese Indian" refers to a broad range of ethnic groups from South Asia, most notably from present-day Bangladesh and India. Indians have a long history in Burma with over 2000 years of active engagement in politics, religion, culture, arts and cuisine. Within Burma, they are often referred to as ka-la (a term generally used for dark skinned foreigners though it has historically been also used to describe foreigners from the west), a term that is considered derogatory or Kala Lumyo. Its root is believed to be ku la meaning either "to cross over (the Bay of Bengal)" or "person" depending on the way it is pronounced.[1] An alternative explanation is that the word is derived from “Ku lar”, meaning the people who adhere to a caste system

The majority of Indians arrived in Burma whilst it was part of British India. Starting with the annexation of Tenasserim and Western Burma after the First Anglo-Burmese War, a steady stream of Indians moved to Burma as civil servants, engineers, river pilots, soldiers, indentured labourers and traders.[1] Following the annexation of Upper Burma in 1885, numerous infrastructure projects started by the British colonial government and increases in rice cultivation in the delta region caused an unprecedented economical boom in Burma that drew many Indians, particularly from southern India, to the Irrawaddy Delta region.

After Independence, Burmese law treated a large percentage of the Indian community as "resident aliens". Though many had long ties to Burma or were born there, they were not considered citizens under the 1982 Burma citizenship law which restricted citizenship for groups immigrating before 1823

An unknown number of Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) are stateless, though at least half a million could be affected. Thousands have been living in Burma for over four generations, not belonging to India or Burma. The last official census in Burma held in 1983 reported approximately 428,000 persons of Indian origin in Burma. The current population is estimated to be about 600,000, but according to the Indian government, as many as 2.5 million PIOs could be living in Burma. Only about 2,000 hold Indian passports. Although they have lived in Burma for more than four generations, they lack documentation required by the 1982 Burmese citizenship law and are therefore stateless. They cannot travel outside the country and face low economic status.

2. Anglo-Burmese or Eurasians

The Anglo-Burmese, also known as the Anglo-Burmans, are a community of Eurasians of Burmese and European descent, and emerged as a distinct community through mixed relations (sometimes permanent, sometimes temporary) between the British (whether English, Scots or Welsh) and other European settlers and Bamar from 1826 until 1948 when Burma gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Today, this small but influential Eurasian community is dispersed throughout the world, with very few accurate estimates as to how many remain behind in military-ruled Burma (or Myanmar.)

The term Anglo-Burmese is also used to refer to Eurasians of European and other Burmese ethnic minority groups (e.g. Shan, Karen, Mon, Chinese) descent. It also, after 1937, included Anglo-Indian residents in Burma. Collectively, in the Burmese language, Eurasians are specifically known as bo kabya; the term kabya refers to persons of mixed ancestry or dual ethnicity.

Earliest settlement

The first Anglo-Burmese community emerged in the early 1600s, as the Portuguese and Bamar intermixed, and this multicultural community was collectively known as the Ba-yin-gyi. The community was established in Syriam (now known as Thanlyin) on the outskirts of modern-day Yangon. The settlement was founded by Felipe de Brito. De Brito is said to have gone mad, having declared himself king of Lower Burma, causing his outpost to be destroyed and himself executed by the Burmese king. Most of the small community of Eurasian and European settlers was banished inland to Shwebo then known as Moksobo. Additionally, a small band of French soldiers captured in the late 1700s by the Burmese King was provided with Burmese wives and established a similar, small Eurasian community. In one of the last census counts conducted by the British in the 1930s, a number of people in Upper Burma still classified themselves as descendants of these bands of Portuguese and French soldiers.[1] After the Portuguese and the French, the Dutch also established trade missions in Burma and along with them came Armenian settlers, both communities intermarrying with the already established Eurasians or marrying local Burmese people. The VOC (Dutch East India Company) was active in Burma in the 1700s and many Anglo-Burmans of Dutch heritage are descended from the Dutch merchants who settled in the country. Today's Anglo-Burmese can count a very diverse lineage in their blood.

British Rule

British settlers now began to settle in large numbers in Burma, intermixing with the local Burmans (Bamar) and other local ethnic groups, and the Eurasian community grew larger, some say larger than the Anglo-Indian community in India (see 'Finding George Orwell' by Emma Larkin). Frequently, European men took Burmese women as "temporary" wives, often deserting them and their offspring after their tours of duty ended in Burma but legal, long lasting marriages did also take place. Frequently, when a "temporary" relationship ended, the European father left behind a sum of money for the upkeep of their children, and sometimes the children were removed from their Burmese mothers and placed into convent schools run by Europeans, where their Burmese heritage was often undermined. The issue of mixed marriages, particularly between Bamar women and British males, was to become a major issue in the independence movement as it further developed.

Anglo-Burmans represent a very diverse heritage, their Asian side primarily representing Burman blood, but also Karen, Shan and Mon as well as other smaller Burmese ethnic groups (Chin, Kachin, Arakanese for example). The European element included, aside from the British, other European influence, chiefly Greek, Dutch, Scandinavian, Irish (who left their country when the Great Irish Famine happened since their country was under British rule), German, Austrian, French, Portuguese, Italian and Russian. In addition, Iraqi (Assyrian/Chaldean Christian), Armenian (the Armenians were classed as White/Europeans in colonial Burma), and Anglo-Indian blood was also represented among Anglo-Burmans. By the 1920s, the Anglo-Burman community was a distinct ethnic group in Burma.

Following the British withdrawal in 1948, some Anglo-Burmans left Burma, primarily for the United Kingdom. It is an interesting irony of note that whereas both Anglo-Burmans and Anglo-Indians had tended to look down on the native Bamar, after they emigrated to Britain, many ended up calling themselves Burmese in white society, primarily due to British attitudes which refused to acknowledge those of mixed origins as their own. Many Anglo-Burmans began to lose their jobs, to be replaced with pure Burmans as the bureaucracy of the country became increasingly Burmanized.

Today, only a handful of people actually identifying themselves as Anglo-Burmans are believed to remain in Burma. Most who remained after 1962 adopted Burmese names, and converted to Buddhism to protect their families, jobs and assets. Because of the similar heritage and roles played, and because Burma was historically part of the Empire as part of India, Anglo-Burmans were once counted as Anglo-Indians; today, Anglo-Indians still accept Anglo-Burmese as their "kith and kin" and world reunions of Anglo-Indians usually also include many who would also be classed more correctly as Anglo-Burmese, to reflect their Burmese, rather than Indian, blood.


Panthays form a group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. Some people refer to Panthays as the oldest group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. However, because of intermixing and cultural diffusion the Panthays are not as distinct a group as they once were Chinese-speaking, and of predominantly Han Chinese ethnic origin, this little-known group of Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi madhhab forms a predominantly endogamous, closely inter-related minority group in four countries – China, Burma, Thailand and Laos – and today represents both Islamic and Chinese cultures in northern Southeast Asia.

Panthay is a term used to refer to the predominantly Muslim Hui people of China who migrated to Burma. They are among the largest groups of Burmese Chinese, and predominantly reside in the northern regions of Burma (formerly known as Upper Burma), particularly in the Tangyan-Maymyo-Mandalay-Taunggyi area and Shan States.

The name Panthay is a Burmese word, which is said to be identical with the Shan word Pang hse. It was the name by which the Burmese called the Chinese Muslims who came with caravans to Burma from the Chinese province of Yunnan. The name was not used or known in Yunnan itself.

The Burmese word Pathi is a corruption of Persian. The Burmese of Old Burma called their own indigenous Muslims Pathi. It was applied to all Muslims other than the Chinese Muslims. The name Panthay is still applied exclusively to the Chinese Muslims. However Chinese Muslims in Yunnan did not call themselves Panthay. They called themselves Huizu (回族), meaning Muslim in Chinese. Non-Muslim Chinese and Westerners refer to them as Huihui (回回).

4.Burmese Chinese

The Burmese Chinese or Chinese Burmese are a group of overseas Chinese born or raised in Burma (Myanmar). Although the Chinese officially make up three percent of the population, the actual figure is believed to be much higher. Among the under-counted Chinese populations are those of mixed background, those that have declared themselves as ethnic Bamar to escape discrimination, and tens of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants that have flooded Upper Burma since the 1990s but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking.

The Burmese Chinese dominate the Burmese economy although many enterprises today are co-owned by the military. Moreover, the Burmese Chinese have a disproportionately large presence in Burmese higher education, and make up a high percentage of the educated class in Burma.

Generally, the Burmese Chinese in Lower Burma, like other oversea Chinese fall into three main groups:

* Hokkien (Burmese: eingyi shay, or let shay lit. long-sleeved shirts) from Fujian Province
* Cantonese (Burmese: eingyi to, or let to lit. short-sleeved shirts) from Guangdong Province
* Hakka (Burmese: zaka, lit. mid-length sleeve) from Fujian and Guangdong provinces

In Upper Burma and Shan Hills, the Panthay and Kokang, mainly speakers of a Mandarin dialect of the Southwestern Mandarin branch, most akin to Yunnanese, predominate. The mountain-dwelling, farming Kokang are classified as a part of the Shan national race, although they have no linguistic or genetic affinity to the Tai-speaking Shan, and the largely trading Muslim Panthay are long considered separate local nationalities rather than a Chinese diaspora community. Combined, they form 21% of Burmese Chinese.

Finally, there are the Tayoke kabya of mixed Chinese and indigenous Burmese parentage. The kabya (Burmese: mixed heritage) have a tendency to follow the customs of the Chinese more than of the Burmese. (Indeed those that follow Burmese customs are absorbed into and largely indistinguishable from the mainstream Burmese society.) A large portion of Burmese Chinese is thought to have some kabya blood, possibly because immigrants could acquire Burmese citizenship through intermarriage with the indigenous Burmese peoples.

Most Burmese Chinese practice Theravada Buddhism, incorporating some Mahayana Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, such as the worship of Kuan Yin. Chinese New Year celebrations, as well as other Chinese festivals, are subdued and held privately. Clan associations are often the only places where the Chinese culture is retained. The Panthay or Chinese Muslims (回教華人; , lit. "little flowers") practice Islam.

The Kokang people are an ethnic group of Burma (also known as Myanmar). They are Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese living in Kokang Special Region. In 1997, it was estimated that the Kokang people, together with more recently-immigrated Yunnanese, constituted 30–40 percent of Burma's ethnic Chinese population. They are not grouped as Burmese Chinese, as they are considered as recognized as ethnic races by Burma.

In 1962, Ne Win led a coup d’état and declared himself head of state. Although a kabya himself, he banned Chinese-language education, and created other measures to compel the Chinese to leave. Ne Win implemented the “Burmese Way to Socialism”,a plan to nationalize all industries, the livelihoods of many entrepreneurial Chinese were destroyed and some 100,000 Chinese left the country. Beginning 1967 and continuing throughout the 1970s, anti-Chinese riots continued to flare up and many believed they were covertly supported by the government.
Many Burmese Chinese left the country during Ne Win’s rule, largely because of a failing economy and widespread discrimination.

Many entrepreneur left the country, which included Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, Jews, Armenian; that may be the reason for the poor economy of the country.

4. Rohingya or Chittagonian Bengali Muslims.

The Rohingya is a Muslim ethnic group of the Northern Arakan State of Western Burma (also known as Myanmar). The Rohingya population is mostly concentrated in two bordering townships of Arakan to Bangladesh, namely Maungdaw and Buthidaung, and is spread in three townships of Akyab, Rathedung and Kyauktaw. Rohingya people are predominantly Muslims. They are recently the latest group of boat people in Indian Ocean.

The Rohingya are Muslims who reside in the northern parts of the Rakhine (historically known as Arakan) State, a geographically isolated area in western Burma, bordering Bangladesh. The British annexed the region after an 1824-26 conflict and encouraged migration from India. Since independence in 1948, successive Burmese governments have considered these migration flows as illegal. Claiming that the Rohingya are in fact Bengalis, they have refused to recognize them as citizens. Shortly after General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) seized power in 1962, the military government began to dissolve Rohingya social and political organizations. The 1974 Emergency Immigration Act stripped Burmese nationality from the Rohingya. In 1977, Operation Nagamin (Dragon King) constituted a national effort to register citizens and screen out foreigners prior to a national census.

The resulting military campaign led to widespread killings, rape, and destruction of mosques and religious persecution. By 1978, more than 200,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh. The Burmese authorities claimed that their flight served as proof of the Rohingya’s illegal status in Burma.

Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, Rohingya were declared “non-national” or “foreign residents.” This law designated three categories of citizens: (1) full citizens, (2) associate citizens, and (3) naturalized citizens.

None of the categories applies to the Rohingya as they are not recognized as one of the 135 “national races” by the Myanmar government. More than 700,000 Rohingya in northern Rakhine today are effectively stateless and denied basic human rights.

Children born outside the country

The Burmese government refuses to give citizenship to children born outside the country to Burmese parents who left illegally or fled persecution. Children born in Thailand of Burmese descent do not have birth certificates and the parents do no have citizenship papers. Neither recognized by the Burmese government nor wanted by the Thai government, many of the roughly two million Burmese migrant workers and 150,000 Burmese refugees are effectively stateless as a result of not having citizenship documentation, and face lives of desperation.

Related articles

1. Burma/Myanmar. The International Observability on Statelessness, http://www.nationalityforall.org/burma-myanmar
2. Statelessness, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statelessness
3. Searching for Citizenship, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c155.html
4. Stateless People in Bangladesh, www.statelesspeopleinbangladesh.net/(are the Biharis Muslim and other stateless non-Bengalli, came with Chittagonian Bengali Muslims(Rohingya)as boat people, which resulted in planned mass exodus of boat people from Bangladesh??? by human trafficking operators)
5. Over 100,000 'Stateless' People Offered Citizenship, http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/173/30421.html
6. The Stateless People of Bangladesh, http://www.thesouthasian.org/archives/2004/the_stateless_people_of_bangla.html

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