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New Horrors From Burma's Denial Of Citizenship To Rohingyas. By Roger Algase

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Update: May 30 as of 7:55 am

For more insight about Burma's persecution of its Rohingya Muslim minority, read the May 29 article:

In Myanmar, attacking Rohingya is good politics

(Sorry - no link available - please go to Google.)

The article states

"Regardless, nationalists draw on a common bias against Muslims, particularly outside of the more cosmopolitan urban centers, that dates back to colonial times, when many Indian Muslims came to Burma along with the British. The Rohingya, whose national origins are disputed and whom the former military dictatorship actually stripped of citizenship in 1982, bear the worst of it. [Bold added.]

The hard line Buddhists, like firebrand monk Wirathu, have 'very extreme views, but they're not marginal views - these are very mainstream extreme views. It means that all political players have to be very cautious here' says Richard Horsey, and independent political analyst in Yangon and former International Labor Organization official. The Ma Ba Tha, a group of nationalist monks, is tilting the entire political playing field to the Buddhist nationalist right."

Perhaps ironically, as Burma moves toward democracy, persecution of its one million Rohingya Muslims appears to be on the increase in order to appeal to popular prejudice.

Does anyone see a parallel with a political party in a certain European country which won power in a democratic election in 1933 by exploiting popular prejudice against another group of people who, like the Rohingya, had been living in the host country for many generations but had never been fully accepted?

Two years later, in 1935, people belonging to that particular minority were also stripped of their citizenship by law, and, as in the case of the Rohingya today, other measures were enacted to isolate them and make their life unbearable. Subsequently, many of them fled. How many countries were willing to take in those Jewish refugees?

My original post follows:

In yet another horror story arising from Burma's denial of citizenship and related human rights to its Muslim minority, The Guardian reports that traffickers are holding thousands of Rohingya refugees from that country in what amount to prison boats offshore from Thailand and Malaysia. They are demanding ransom from relatives of the refugees (as well as migrant workers from Bangladesh who are also on board). Bodies of those being held who have already died are being dumped at sea.

The whereabouts of at least some of these boats is hardly a secret (the US navy is reportedly helping to search for others which are believed to be at sea but so far undetected) and there are no reports of the the traffickers being heavily armed. What, other than sheer indifference to a group of people whom no country in that area seems to want, is stopping the international community from doing more to rescue the trapped victims? (As a May 30 update, Burma itself is reported to have rescued one boat with 700 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants on board.)

The Guardian story,

Asian refugee crisis: trafficked migrants held off Thailand in vast 'camp boats' (May 28) is at:

In the meantime, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, still apparently refuses to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Muslim Rohingyas in that overwhelmingly Buddhist country, despite being urged to do so by the Dalai Lama himself, according to a May 28 Huffington Post story:

Dalai Lama Urges Myanmar Pro-Democracy Icon Aung San Suu Kyi To Speak Out For Rohingya Muslims

It is easy to blame these atrocities on international criminals such as human traffickers, but the traffickers are only a symptom of the problems caused by Burma's denial of citizenship and other basic rights to, and officially supported incitement to violence against, its Muslim minority, as described in more detail in my previous posts on this topic.

How important are citizenship rights? Why is their denial by Burma such a crucial element in the ongoing tragedy of the Rohingya refugees? After all, no less of an authority than the US think tank (and anti-immigrant advocacy group) Center for Immigration Studies has reported that the great majority of the world's countries (apart from the US and almost all of its neighbors in the Americas) do not recognize universal birthright citizenship, but restrict it (mainly on the grounds of parentage or ethnicity).

As I have also pointed out before, the distinguished Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and former immigration lawyer Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also believes that it would be useful for the US to "study" these restrictive citizenship laws of other countries. He suggests that it would be worthwhile to consider whether America should tear up (by amending or distorting the meaning of) our own Constitution, which, according to Supreme Court precedent going back more than a century, unequivocally guarantees universal birthright citizenship for all US-born children, regardless of parentage. Goodlatte's committee has already instituted hearings for this purpose.

In the face of the ongoing refugee disaster in Southeast Asia and the assault against America's Constitutional guarantee of universal birthright citizenship being carried out by some of our political leaders here at home, it is instructive to look more closely into the connection between citizenship rights and fundamental human rights established under international law.

Two international bodies have issued reports dealing with this issue.

One is the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

See: Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law (2001)

Of particular interest is the section entitled "Stateless Persons" (pages 24-25).

The other is Pamphlet No. 12:



Both of these reports show that citizenship rights cannot be looked at separately from basic human rights, and that denial of the former inevitably leads to denial of the latter.

This is especially true when the denial of citizenship is connected with membership in a particular minority group (directly, as in the case of Burma's Rohingyas, or indirectly, as threatens to be the case with Hispanics and the children of other immigrants of color in the US).

I will discuss these two reports further in a forthcoming comment.
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been helping skilled and professional immigrants obtain work permits and green cards for more than 30 years.

His practice is concentrated in H-1B specialty occupation, O-1 extraordinary ability, L-1 intra-company transferee and J-1 trainee visas, and green cards through labor certification and opposite sex or same sex marriage.

Roger's email address is

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Updated 05-30-2015 at 02:53 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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