The Rohingya have been called the world’s most persecuted people. The Myanmar government has long refused to recognize their citizenship, instead calling them illegal immigrants and leaving the primarily Muslim minority stateless. But most of those who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh are now having their identities and ethnicity recognized for the first time.With the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh now exceeding 1 million, the government is undertaking a massive effort to register every single one. The authorities say that 11,000 refugees are being registered every day, and that at this rate, the process will be done by Dec. 12.
At first, the identity cards only stated that the refugees were from Myanmar, but after receiving complaints, they began to include the word “Rohingya.”Mohammad Ismail, a Rohingya refugee, told VICE News that he is eager to get official documentation: “We are happy. We are globally recognized as Rohingya. Burma rejects us, but we identify ourselves as Rohingya.”Watch: We spoke to Rohingyas taking up arms against Myanmar’s government
More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the Myanmar military began its latest campaign of violence, torture and rape to drive them out of the country. Those who have escaped now face squalid conditions in cramped refugee camps.“Without registration, without official recognition in this country, these people have no rights,” Kitty McKenzie, UNHCR spokesperson, told VICE News. She added that registration allows aid agencies to assess needs and thus better distribute aid. It also provides information that would be useful if the refugees were to be repatriated, a process that may begin within the next two months.
Read: Rohingya refugees face “catastrophe” after escape from Myanmar
The Myanmar government has effectively denied the Rohingya citizenship since passing a nationality law in 1982. Instead, it has attempted to issue the minority “national verification cards,” which don’t acknowledge their citizenship nor their ethnicities. As a result, many Rohingya refused to accept them.
This segment originally aired November 15, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.