US envoy urges Myanmar Rohingya 'citizenship' to end exodus

YANGON (AFP) - A senior US diplomat called on Myanmar on Friday to grant its persecuted Rohingya minority citizenship rights as a way to help reduce the current exodus of migrants across the Bay of Bengal.

"They should have a path to citizenship," Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Yangon a day after talks with Myanmar leaders on the ongoing crisis, adding "the uncertainty that comes from not having any status is one of the things that may drive people to leave".

The persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar's western Rakhine state is one of the main causes of the current migration crisis engulfing South-east Asia, alongside growing numbers trying to escape grinding poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by the authorities, who dismiss them as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, despite many living there for generations.

Mr Blinken said the fact that Rohingya were willing "to put their lives in jeopardy" for the deadly sea crossing was a "reflection of conditions in Rakhine state that are leading people to make this choice".

"Even if we address the immediate crisis, we also must confront its root causes in order to achieve a sustainable solution," Mr Blinken said.

"I noted in the meeting with government yesterday that the root of the problem of those leaving from Myanmar is the political and social situation on the ground in Rakhine state," he added.

Mr Blinken's comments came after the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia - whose countries are destination points for Rohingya fleeing persecution - met Myanmar officials on Thursday as pressures mounted on the former junta-led nation to stem the migrant exodus from its shores.

Myanmar has seen surging Buddhist nationalism in recent years and spates of violence targeting Muslim minorities have raised doubts over its much vaunted reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

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