Kaman people say Sittwe passport office denying their applications on basis of religion
“They said we can’t apply for passports because we are Kaman Islam. They said the order came from Naypyitaw. But they couldn’t show the order when I asked,” said U Min Che from Thakkelpyin (Kaman) Village in Sittwe Township.
05 Sep 2023
5 September 2023, Sittwe
People who identify as Kaman, an officially recognised and predominantly Muslim ethnic group, say they are being denied passports due to their faith.
The branch passport office in the Arakan State capital Sittwe has reportedly refused to issue passports for Kaman people, suspending acceptance of passport applications from Kaman people since September of last year.
“They said we can’t apply for passports because we are Kaman Islam. They said the order came from Naypyitaw. But they couldn’t show the order when I asked. I had an argument with them at the office,” said U Min Che from Thakkelpyin (Kaman) Village in Sittwe Township.
The majority of the Kaman population lives in Arakan State’s Sittwe, Ramree and Thandwe townships.
Driven by unemployment and high costs of living, many Kaman people are seeking to work overseas. But as they are denied passports, many try to cross the border illegally, often resulting in arrests.
Community elder U Thein Tun from Thinganet Village in Sittwe Township said: “We can’t apply for passports though we have citizenship IDs. Those who tried to go abroad illegally have been arrested on their way. We are being denied our fundamental rights.”
Ma Khin Thuzar, from the same village, said the passport office in Yangon also denied her passport application.
“The passport office in Arakan State refused to issue passports for us,” she said. “So, we went to Yangon thinking that it would give us passports. But it didn’t. So, we went to Myawaddy [in Kayin State], and applied for passports there. And we got passports there. However, we had to spend a lot of money to get a passport.”
Ma Saw Khin Oo, from Tharyargon Village in Sittwe Township, said it is a form of discrimination to deny Kaman people passports.
“This is unacceptable. It is discrimination on the grounds of religion. We don’t want discrimination,” she said.
Officials from the Sittwe branch passport office declined to comment. DMG’s calls to Arakan State military council spokesman U Hla Thein went unanswered.
A source close to the passport office told DMG: “The head office in Yangon has ordered not to issue [passports] to Kaman people who follow Islam. But for emergencies, they can make requests to higher-level authorities through the passport office. Passports will be issued if they approve.”
Small populations of Kaman people also live in Yangon and Mandalay. According to 2018-19 statistics, there were more than 50,000 Kaman people in Myanmar.