Myanmar junta bans fighting-age men from going to work abroad as army struggles with rebellion

Move comes weeks after junta announced an unpopular policy of military conscription

Maroosha Muzaffar
Friday 03 May 2024 12:33 BST
Related: Aung San Suu Kyi’s son shares health update of mother after receiving letter

Myanmar’s military junta has stopped issuing permits for men to work abroad just weeks after it introduced military conscription.

In February this year the junta announced new conscription laws, making it compulsory for all young women and men to join the military amid an ongoing civil conflict in the country. The move resulted in thousands of young people attempting to leave the country and avoid being forced to fight.

The controversial consription law and the latest move to suspend working permits for fighting-age men comes as the military struggles to contain an armed rebellion by pro-democracy resistance forces and ethnic minority armed organisations.

On 2 May, the labour ministry said that it had “temporarily suspended” accepting applications from men who wish to work abroad. The statement added that the move was aimed to “take more time to verify departure processes”.

The ban on men working abroad, which went into effect on 1 May, was “temporary” and will remain in effect “as needed”, ministry of labour’s permanent secretary Nyunt Win told Radio Free Asia Burmese on Thursday.

“Starting from 1 May … we will only be allowed to send [registered] women as migrant workers,” Mr Nyunt Win said in an interview. “Men will not be able to register to work abroad during the suspension period.”

The minister clarified that men who had registered to work abroad by the end of April will be exempt from the ban, as will “a small number” of workers who made arrangements through intergovernmental employment agencies.

The official did not provide any explanation for the implementation of the ban, or details on its duration.

In 2020, the most recent available figures, the International Labour Organization estimates that over four million Myanmar nationals were working overseas.

According to the military conscription law, those between the ages of 18 and 35 for men, and 18 and 27 for women, may be conscripted into the armed forces for two years. However, in specific professional fields such as medicine and engineering, there are extended age limits of 45 for men and 35 for women, and their service duration is three years.

The introduction of conscription was seen as a tacit admission that the army is struggling to contain nationwide armed resistance against its rule, which began in 2021 after the junta seized power from the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“So what we want to say is that the responsibility of national defence is not only the responsibility of the soldier. It is the responsibility of all people in all parts of the country,” the military government’s spokesperson Maj Gen Zaw Min Tun said at the time.

“National security is everyone’s responsibility. That is why I would like to tell everyone to serve with pride under the enacted law of people’s military service,” he told state television. The first batch of several thousand conscripts have already begun training, according to local media reports.

The junta government said it would impose penalties on those evading conscription, amid growing reports of people trying to leave the country or even join up with resistance groups rather than be forced to fight for the military regime.

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