Myanmar census extended amid controversy

April 13, 2014 - 12:56:09 am

YANGON: Myanmar’s census, which was supposed to end on April 10, was extended yesterday until the end of May, due to “technical and logistical problems”.

The census — the first in three decades — has long been mired in controversy, much of it concerning the counting of Rohingya — Muslims who live in western Rakhine state.

Officials say some 100,000 schoolteachers have fanned out across Myanmar on foot collecting data for the census, expected to count between 48 million and 65 million citizens.

On April 10, on what was supposed to be the final day of the census, volunteers went door-to-door in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, racing to gather data for a census estimated by rights groups and other groups to cost $74m.

Trucks with loudspeakers blared reminders for people to be counted and shops, buildings, ferries and buses were plastered with posters encouraging people to take part.

Rights organisations and ethnic groups in Myanmar have called for the census to be postponed until it can be carried out fairly and safely.

The government had promised international sponsors that ethnic groups could choose their classification. But a day before the census kicked off, presidential spokesman Ye Htut indicated that use of the term Rohingya would be prohibited.

The government describes the Rohingya as Bengalis, a term that implies they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Many say they have lived in Rakhine for generations.

Minister of Immigration and Population Khin Yi, who is head of the census commission, said the Rohingyas’ classification was one of the reasons counting had to be extended, adding that some actually wanted to be counted as Bengalis. “They were always recorded as Bengali, since the censuses under the British (colonial rule) till the last one in 1983,” the Democracy Today Daily quoted Khin Yi as saying.

The government and United Nations Population Fund have been criticised for basing the census on 135 officially recognised ethnic groups. Critics say that is outdated and inaccurate.