YANGON: Enumerators fanned out across Myanmar on Sunday for a census that has been widely criticised for stoking religious and ethnic tensions, after the government denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya.’
And administrators in some parts of the country, including rebel controlled areas in Kachin and Wa states, said they were barring census takers because they worry the count will be used for political purposes.
Myanmar only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule and self-imposed isolation.
No one knows how many people live in the predominantly Buddhist nation.
The most accepted estimated, around 60 million, is based on extrapolations from the last count in 1983, that experts say was hugely flawed, leaving out many religious and ethnic minorities.
The enumerators, most of them school teachers wearing white blouses, green traditional lounge and khaki-colored waistcoats, started going door-to-door at 7 am Sunday.
They hope to reach 12 million households by the time they finish their job on April 10.
Their long, complicated questionnaire, a collaboration between the government and the United Nations Population Fund, seeks information that goes well beyond the number of people living in each home, from literacy rates, employment levels and disabilities to access to clean water and fertility rates.
But it also includes sensitive, and highly controversial, questions about race and ethnicity that human rights groups have repeatedly warned could put vulnerable populations at risk.
They are especially worried about Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, who have been the targets of Buddhist mob attack in the last two years thathave left more than 200 people dead and sent another 140,000 fleeing their homes.
The government considers members of the religious minority to be Bengali immigrants, though many arrived generations ago, and denies them citizenship by national law…. see more