UPDATE – Myanmar boat disaster victims Muslim, but which ones?


By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – A minority ethnic group has denied that its members perished in a recent boat disaster off Myanmar despite evidence to the contrary, raising the suggestion that one Muslim group may be posing as another to gain humanitarian aid.

The Myanmar Times claimed Monday that those who died were not the previously stated Rohingya Muslims from an internally-displaced persons (IDP) camp in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, but ethnic Kaman Muslims from the same camp.

The boat was transporting around 60 passengers from Sin Tet Maw camp in Pauktaw Township to state capital Sittwe when it capsized off Rakhine after getting into trouble April 19.

However, a Kaman Muslim leader rejected the report in a phone call with Anadolu Agency on Monday, saying its members were not involved.

“No. No Kaman Muslim died in the accident as in this report,” Zaw Win, the chairman of the Kaman National Progressive Party — which represents around 50,000 ethnic Kaman Muslims, most of whom live in Rakhine — attempted to underline.

He added that only 10 Kaman families were staying in the Sin Tet Maw camp, where the dead were reported to have come from.

“We are going to publish our announcement in the state-run newspapers to clarify that no Kaman Muslim died,” he said.

The Kaman — one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnicities — have been living in the camp since they were caught up in sectarian disputes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012 that left 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead.

In the ensuing violence, around 100,000 people — Buddhist, Kaman, Rohingya, and some Christians — were left displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned down — most of which belonged to Rohingya.

Despite the government lifting a state of emergency imposed after the fighting in March, many Rohingya and Kaman are still to be allowed to return to their homes.

On Monday, the Myanmar Times reporter stood by his story, telling Anadolu Agency that he and his colleague had unearthed evidence that proved that most of the dead were Kaman.

“We have interviewed many victims’ family members who are Kaman Muslims. They even showed us their NRC [national registration cards],” Nyan Lynn Aung said by phone from Sin Tet Maw camp.

“And we also found that over half of the dead people are described as Kaman in their death certificates.”

In a phone interview with Anadolu Agency on Monday, U Oo Hla Saw, the general secretary of the Rakhine Nationality Development Party, described ethnic Kaman as “forgotten people”, saying that many pretend to be Rohingya to procure aid.

Each year, millions of dollars are donated to assist Rohingya IDPs in the camps, they have become a priority of aid and humanitarian groups, and are frequently granted refugee status overseas as agencies recognize them as being subject to persecution which many see as being state sanctioned.

“Most Kaman in the camps would describe themselves as Bengali [Rohingya] in order to have better aid,” Oo Hla Saw said.

Many people use the term “Bengali” when referring to “Rohingya” as it suggests the ethnicity is not from Myanmar but interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

He added that outside the camps the situation is often reversed, as Rohingya are not considered citizens of Myanmar.

“Outside… some Bengalis pretend to be Kaman in order to get citizenship by taking advantage of their similarity of religion,” he said.

“All these situations make it very hard for the Kaman people.”

Zaw Win says that more than 1,000 Kaman remain displaced in Rakhine.

“We are not safe anymore wherever we are staying — at homes or in camps,” he added.

“Rakhine people think we are Kular [a derogatory word used for people with dark-skin], and the same as Bengali because of our religion and appearance,” he said.

“But in the camps, our people are discriminated against by the majority Rohingya,” he claimed.

“We are stuck right in the middle of Rakhine’s two majority groups.”

In March, a group of Bangladeshi migrants claiming to be Rohingya were detained by Turkish authorities as they attempted to get to the European Union.

Many Bangladeshis marooned at sea with Rohingya during the 2015 Asian boat people crisis were also reported to have claimed to be Rohingya in an effort to secure refugee status.