UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi gestures during a news conference at a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
By Donna Airoldi
BANGKOK (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. refugee agency urged Myanmar on Friday to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in the Asian country where sectarian violence has displaced tens of thousands since 2012.
On his first official visit to Southeast Asia, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi this week met communities in the towns of Sittwe and Maungdaw in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to a large population of Rohingya Muslims.
He also met Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader.
Rakhine State in west Myanmar has seen the most serious religious violence in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar since the military began to end its decades of strict rule, with hundreds of Rohingya Muslims killed and more than 140,000 people displaced there in communal unrest in 2012.
Tensions have risen again in recent days after village administrators were murdered and troops killed three people while clearing a Rohingya militant camp.
“It’s important to work on granting citizenship to the Muslim community, that has been deprived of citizenship for many years,” Grandi told reporters in Bangkok.
Myanmar’s government regards the approximately one million Rohingya as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship, even though Rohingya families have lived there for generations.
Grandi also said that more investment was needed in the region.
“It is one of the poorest states in the Union of Myanmar and there’s an urgent need for development investments that must be inclusive of the two communities,” he said.
(Reporting by Donna Airoldi; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)