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Burma’s Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population Thein Swe has denied an assertion made by one of his cabinet colleagues last week of plans to relax travel restrictions for holders of National Verification Cards (NVCs), the vast majority of whom would be Rohingya Muslims.
The Union minister was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a workshop on occupational safety and health held in Naypyidaw on Wednesday.
“The NVC holders can enjoy freedom of movement in terms of travelling within the relevant townships they reside in,” he said. “The information that NVC holders are entitled to travel to any place in the country is not true at all. We can’t allow that to happen. I want to stress that the rights, entitlements and restrictions stipulated at the time of issuing NVCs remain unchanged.”
Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye said last week that NVC holders were to be granted greater freedom of movement, a statement that drew a sharp rebuke from the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The cards are a prerequisite for those who lack Burmese citizenship and are seeking to apply for it. The country’s largest stateless population are Rohingya, nearly 700,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh since August and are residing in refugee camps there in the wake of a fierce crackdown by Burmese security forces that the government has defended as a legitimate counterinsurgency campaign.
Repatriation efforts have so far foundered in part due to uncertainty about the NVC application process; concerns that Thein Swe did little to alleviate on Wednesday.
“The claim that NVC holders would be able to apply for [and obtain] citizenship within five months is not in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law,” he said. “We are taking measures in accordance with the law. It [granting citizenship to NVC holders] should not be a concern for citizens.”
According to Reuters, Win Myat Aye on 19 April said NVC holders would be eligible for Burmese citizenship within five months of applying after being “scrutinised according to the law.”