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Muslims Allowed Free Travel in Maungdaw

Muslims living in Maungdaw Township in western Burma’s Arakan State have been allowed to travel freely within their own township without prior approval starting from 21 April.

Maungdaw gateThe commander of Burma’s border security and immigration force, Nasaka, Colonel Aung Gyi, reportedly announced the new travel policy for Muslims in Maungdaw during a meeting with Muslim elders at 10 am on 21 April.

“Nasaka commander called upon the Muslim elders, including the chairman of the District Islam Council, Dr. U Tun Aung, U Mohammad Sidique, U Khin Zaw, and U Nur Harkim, and told them that Muslims in Maungdaw Townships are allowed to travel without approval – such as the village-exit approval – but with a temporary identification card and other red and white cards, and just within the township,” said one of the Muslim elders.

This is the first time travel restrictions on Muslims have been eased in more than two decades, since 1988, when the military took power and tightly restricted the movement of Muslims.

The minister of immigration, U Khin Yi, in a recent question and answer session in the people’s parliament, stated that travel restrictions have to be imposed on Muslims living in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships on the western Burmese border because those areas are close to the over-populated Bangladesh and inspection by immigration is very necessary there.

“They are now allowed to travel freely in Maungdaw Township and no travel approval is necessary for them. There is no approval such as village-exit, but it is likely they are telling about travel approval. Now no approval is necessary for their travels,” confirmed the administrator of Maungdaw Township.

Narinjara was disconnected from the administrator on the phone and was unable to get further information on why the travel restrictions in Maungdaw are now being eased after more than 20 years.

“We are happy because we are now allowed to travel freely in our township and feel that this is a success for us amid many difficulties. But repairing the mosques and Arabic schools are still not allowed and marriage still remains restricted,” said the Muslim elder.

According to local authority sources, Muslims in Maungdaw are allowed to marry after applying to the Nasaka authorities because early marriage and polygamy are allegedly common in the Muslim communities.

However, Nasaka officials use the restriction to make a profit by selling the marriage permits to Muslims at a price that ranges from 3,000 to 100,000 Kyat.

It was also learned that the Form 4 and travel approval from the responsible authorities, as well as identification cards, are still necessary for Muslim residents to travel outside of Maungdaw, and free travel is only allowed within the township itself.