Myanmar's first census in 3 decades completed amid controversy

Myanmar's first census in 3 decades completed amid controversy
Myanmar census enumerators work on the collected data at a monitoring office in Yangon.

YANGON - A group of women dressed in green sarong-like longyis and simple white blouses stand around a table piled with census forms entering neat notations on spread sheets by hand.

The women will have to go through 37,579 family census forms in the next 24 hours, according to officials, using hand calculators to tally the total numbers because they have no access to computers.

The scene underscores the challenges of carrying out a census in this poor and sprawling nation dominated by Buddhists.

The census - the first in three decades - has long been mired in controversy, much of it concerning the counting of Rohingya, Muslims who lives in western Rakhine state and often described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Officials say some 100,000 school teachers have fanned out across Myanmar on foot collecting data for the census, expected to count from 48 million to 65 million citizens.

On the final day of the census, estimated by rights groups and other groups to cost $74 million, volunteers went door-to-door in Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital.

Trucks with loudspeakers blared reminders for people to be counted and shops, buildings, ferries and buses were plastered with posters encouraging people to take part.

Susu Win, a volunteer tallying numbers in Yangon, said she worked 12 hours a day and interviewed, on average, 100 families. "The biggest problem is that we had to climb eight, nine floors in four to five buildings a day with no elevators," she said.

Rights organisations and ethnic groups in Myanmar have called for the census to be postponed until it can be carried out fairly and safely.

The government had promised international sponsors that ethnic groups could choose their classification.

But a day before the census kicked off, presidential spokesman Ye Htut indicated that use of the term Rohingya would be prohibited.

In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, Buddhists protested against the use of the term Rohingya, saying it would give them legitimacy.

The government describes the Rohingya as Bengalis and says many are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

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