Rohingya Muslims who fled Burma to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in 2012. Pic: AP. Pic: AP.

NEW YORK (AP) — The top U.N. envoy on Burma says the top priority for Muslims in violence-torn Rakhine state who are considered illegal immigrants is to get the path to citizenship.

Vijay Nambiar, the secretary-general’s special adviser on Burma, warned in a speech Thursday to the International Peace Institute that unless this is done the security of the Rohingya Muslims will remain threatened “and that is sure to affect the international reputation of the country.”

Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation which only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule, considers the Rohingya Muslims to be from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship and related rights, even though many were born to families who arrived in the country generations ago.

Burma is conducting a census but most Rohingyas are unlikely to be counted.