Citizenship, Census, White Cards and Illegals

As of recent, there have been media reports especially in VOA & RFA Burmese Broadcasts, concerning with the Burmese Immigration granting citizenship to Rohingya/Bengali population in Rakhine State. The media is also questioning the origion of so-called "White Cards" or "Temporary Registration Cards" holders. Also important is that some Rakhine Parties expressing their disappointments about no illegal Bengladeshi immigrants, in fact, were being found in current citizenship scrutinizing process.

On the one hand, there are concerns being raised by Rohinga community that there will be another exodus into Bangladesh due to current operation. In particular, the Rohingya/Bengali being un-able to be counted as "Rohingya" but only registering as "Bengali", they would become more vulnerable to be deported to Bangladesh as foreigners. This fear, however unfounded, would be acute especially amongst those White Cards holders.


Fortunately or un-fortunately, there would seem no difference to the Burmese State, in one way or the other, whether the Rohingya/Bengali are being able to register themselves as the "Rohingya". This is simply because, in the eyes of Burmese Immigration Laws, this group of people who now hold White Cards are being considered all along as the "foreigners". According to the 1983 Burma's Census Records (, this group of people were registered as "Bangladeshi", "Indian" etc. This means, they were already regarded by the Burmese State as "foreigners" as of 1983.

Certainly, the formatted print-out that Census document strikes me familiar as that of ICL Main-Frame at Burma's first-ever Computer Centre! Anyway, we can find in there that a total of (546,176 = Indian + Pakistani + Bangladeshi) foreigners listed within Rakhine State. A total of having Islamic Faith being 584,518 counted as of 1983. Lets just keep in mind of this two important numbers which later to be referred in the analysis below.

There are still open questions about at what point in time these group of foreigners came into Burma. Or more importantly, how the Burmese State has come to be recording them as foreigners? We, of course, now have some clear picture about early Bengali labour migrant settlement after 1824. However, between 1824 to 1948, and then the period leads up-until 1983, what had happened to this community is still abit blurry and hazy.

According to this VOA report, there are about 700,000 (Rakhine State) up-to 850,000 (nation-wide) White Card Holders (Official confirmation of this number is required). For the purpose of this discussion, let assume this number is correct. Then, these 700,000-850,000 White Card Holders must have grown out from the group of foreigners recorded in 1983.


The VOA report is stating that the Burmese Immigration started issuing White Cards in 1993. Some residents were also re-issued with White Cards, replacing their normal identification cards. The total number of White Card holders become 700,000--850,000 nation-wide.

The White Cards or Temporary Registration Cards were issued primarily to the returnees under the 1993 UNHCR's repatriation program. The returnee numbers in 1993 was about 230,000, of which, strictly speaking, the UNHCR would still have some protection responsibility. It would appears that Burmese Immigration had issued further White Cards to those in the same 'foreigners' category as it appeared in 1983 Census. As we understand, the Bumese Immigration historically do not issue any form of individual indentification cards to Rohingya/Bengalis but just to keep check on them with their family-lists. The circumstances surrounding the Burmese Immigration issuing of these White Cards may be found in the Human Rights Watch Report in 1996 (

There were frequent complaints by Rakhine nationalists that allowing Temporary Registration Card holders to vote or to participate in the political processes as inappropriate. In contrary to its name suggested, the Temporay Registration Card (White Card) holders in Burma are not quite that "Temporary". They are not foreigner-migrants who have migrated Burma just six months or three years ago. They were already residents of Burma since 1983, and possibly much longer before. They are born in Burma. Their fathers and even their grand-fathers may have been born in Burma. Their political participation, therefore, are more than justified by any international standards.


In fact, amongst those 546,176 foreigner-residents listed in 1983 Census, included were those returned from the 1978 exodus. At that time under General Ne Win, those who were screened to be 'bona-fide' residents of Burma had been taken back into Arakan.

Perhaps one would asks: Just how many immigration check were there in Arakan since Burma's independence in 1948 that effecting Rohingya/Bengali population? On this question, we can consult directly with the information provided by Rohingya community itself. In one of Dr. Habib Siddiqui articles, listed on the operations as (

1. Military Operation (5th Burma Regiment) – November 1948
2. Burma Territorial Force (BTF) – Operation 1949-50
3. Military Operation (2nd Emergency Chin regiment) – March 1951-52
4. Mayu Operation – October 1952-53
5. Mone-thone Operation – October 1954
6. Combined Immigration and Army Operation – January 1955 [IMMI-CHECK]
7. Union Military Police (UMP) Operation – 1955-58 [IMMI-CHECK]
8. Captain Htin Kyaw Operation – 1959
9. Shwe Kyi Operation – October 1966 [IMMI-CHECK]
10. Kyi Gan Operation – October-December 1966 [IMMI-CHECK]
11. Ngazinka Operation – 1967-69 [IMMI-CHECK]
12. Myat Mon Operation – February 1969-71 [IMMI-CHECK]
13. Major Aung Than Operation – 1973
14. Sabe Operation February – 1974-78 [IMMI-CHECK]
15. Naga-Min (King Dragon) Operation – February 1978-79 [IMMI-CHECK]
(resulting in exodus of some 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
16. Shwe Hintha Operation – August 1978-80 [IMMI-CHECK]
17. Galone Operation – 1979 [IMMI-CHECK]
18. Pyi Thaya Operation, July 1991-92 [IMMI-CHECK]
(resulting in exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
19. Na-Sa-Ka Operation, since 1992.(24) [IMMI-CHECK]

In fact, the Arakan State has been the most immigration-checked area since Burma's independence. After 1993, the Burmese Immigration and, now infamous Na-Sa-Ka, become even more vigilent as these immigration checks appeared more intensified.

The Rakhine parties aren't happy with the fact that no illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were found in current government operation. Given the history of immigration checks, there aren't any likelyhood of sizeable illegals amongst Arakan residents.


Because Rohingya/Bengali community has been through so much especially with immigration checks, it is only natural that current government operation has also caused them alarm. However, I believe the outcome will be different this time (keep our fingers crossed, though!).

When we look at the 1978 exodus, i.e. The Operation King Dragon, there were report on existence of up to 100,000 Bengladeshi war refugees illegally living amongst the 'bona-fide' Arakan residents. With the heavy handedness of Burmese Government of that time, any immigration check will cause a large exodus (new information on the Operation Dragon are still coming in, which we would perhaps discuss more about the 1978 situation later.)

About the 1992 exodus, we know for the fact that the late General Saw Maung, who in-charge of military and government at that time had suffered mental illiness. The Burmese Army then went berserk and expelling Rohingyas as a political diversion. In both cases, i.e. 1978 & 1992, the immigration checks are aiming towards punishing undocumented illegal entrants. Unfortunately, most Rohingya/Bengali don't have any form of individual documentation.

Current citizenship screening and immigration check is quite different in its purpose from previous ones. The current check is not aiming towards punishing Rohingya/Bengalis. Instead, the current immigration check is aiming to provide rewards, i.e. granting some forms of individual identification cards, to those Rohingya/Bengalis. Therefore, this operation is unlikely to cause any exodus, as may be feared by some Rohingya leaders.

More importantly, there aren't any sizeable number of illegal Bangladeshi amongst Arakan residents, of which that might have cause a trigger for another exodus. About the absence of any sizeable numbers of illegals in Arakan, we can ascertain it by statistical models.


To my observation, the Burmese government wanted to be seen as it is conducting the coming 2015 election in an orderly and systematic way. The first stage towards this end is to conduct a nation-wide census, which we've already seen it has done.

As for the Arakan State and the 'stateless' Rohingya/Bengali population, the Burmese Immigration has had enough statistics to determine who-is-who without ever conducting another census. This is mainly because, as has been explained in the previous section, the increase of surveillance by the government since 1993 on Rohingya/Bengali community. As of recent, the government has also put-up a wired-fence along Burma-Bangladesh border and increased border security measures. Whilst Burmese and Rakhine general public aren't still un-aware, the government knows that there are no illegal aliens amongst the community. In otherwords, the Burmese government is confident that it's in total control of this Rohingya/Bengali border community. The screening and granting of citizenship to Rohingya/Bengali community has therefore been in government's policy pipeline since the Rakhine State Inquiry in 2012 (

So therefore, in order to keep in line with the rest of the country, the Burmese government appears conducting a formal census, making check-up on the immigration and screening for citizenship. This operation can be seen in positive light that the Burmese government is currying favour with UN Population Funds and the UN System. By solving the statelessness, the UNHCR will be able to discharge successfully of its mandated protection responsibilities in relation to the 1993 returnees. The government will certainly be able to repair its acrimonious relationship with the UN Commission on Human Rights. One can certainly foresee the international goodwills there to be followed, and the government's credibility enhanced, should this citizenship screening operation is successful. It is a win-win situation for both the government and Rohingya/Bengali community.


With the available statistical data, we can in fact check whether there has been any irregular or illegal growth in the population. To this end, we can use the population data from the Burmese Government's Rakhine Commission Inquiry in 2013 and the Official Census records of 1983.

Annual population growth rate is usually described by percentage and year-by-year listing is available here ( As you can see, the growth rate for Burmese population as a whole, on the average, is about 2 per cent and declining. On calculations, one must use this as an exponential factor. Lets try to analyse with a very crude mathematical model ( You can try with other better models, and please share it with us ! ).

For example, look at an initial 1000 person with annual population growth rate of r = 2% in 10 years; with this method at 10 years end we have (1.02^10 = 1.22); which means there will be 1000+122 souls. We would just look at the two groups in Rakhine State, we get the followings:


1983 2013 Ratio-2013/1983 Rate r
Arakan Total: 2,045,599; 3,338,669; 1.63; r = 1.65
Rakhine Indigenous: 1,387,450; 2,333,670; 1.68; r = 1.75
Islamic group: 584,518; 968,218; 1.76; r = 1.9
Foreigners: 546,176; (White Cards?)

Calculated White Card holders 546,176 * 1.76 = 961,270. To get accurate figure, we must find out from Burmese Immigration that how many people being granted citizenship in last 30 years. The reported White Cards within Rakhine State are between 700,000 -- upto -- 850,000, which seems quite reasonable.

When looking at the ratios, i.e. 2013/1983, the group-wise numbers are pritty much consistent. This means there are no extra-ordinary population increase amnongst these groups. The message is clear to those looking for "illegals" in Arakan State; we just have none!

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo, Australia.