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Myanmar junta bans men from working abroad

Published : 03 May 2024 10:36 PM

Myanmar’s junta has suspended the issuing of permits for men to work abroad, it said, weeks after introducing a military conscription law that led to thousands trying to leave the country.

The regime, which is struggling to crush widespread armed opposition to its rule, in February said it would enforce a law allowing it to call up men to serve in the military for at least two years.

The move sent thousands queuing for visas outside foreign embassies in the commercial capital Yangon and others crossing into neighbouring Thailand to escape the law, according to media reports.

The labour ministry has “temporarily suspended” accepting applications from men who wish to work abroad, the ministry said in a statement posted by the junta’s information team late Thursday.

The measure was needed to “take more time to verify departure processes and according to other issues,” it said, without giving details.

More than 4 million Myanmar nationals were working abroad in 2020, according to an estimate by the International Labour Organization citing figures from the then-government. Analysts say many more work abroad off the books.


The military service law was authored by the previous military junta in 2010 but was never brought into force.

It allows the military to summon all men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 to serve for at least two years.

That law also has a stipulation that, during a state of emergency, the terms of service can be extended up to five years and those ignoring a summons to serve can be jailed for the same period.

The Myanmar junta announced a state of emergency when it seized power in 2021, with the army recently extending it for a further six months.

A first batch of several thousand recruits has already begun training under the law, according to pro-military Telegram accounts.

Junta spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun said the law was needed “because of the situation happening in our country”, as it battles both People’s Defence Forces, armed groups created after the coup to fight the regime, and long-standing armed organisations belonging to ethnic minorities.

Around 13 million people will be eligible to be called up, he said, though the military only has the capacity to train 50,000 a year.

More than 4,900 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since its February 2021 coup and more than 26,000 others arrested, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

RFA Burmese, Yangon reports; the junta has banned all men from working abroad amid widespread public concern over the implementation of a military draft law.

Since Myanmar’s conscription law was announced by junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Feb. 10, troops nationwide have attempted to press-gang large numbers into the military, which is seeking to shore up its ranks after a series of battlefield defeats. 

It requires men and women aged 18 to 35 to serve in the junta’s armed forces for two years – prompting more than 100,000 to flee their homes to avoid the draft, the Burmese Affairs and Conflict Study found last month.

The ban on men working abroad, which went into effect on May 1, is “temporary” and will remain in effect “as needed,” Ministry of Labor Permanent Secretary Nyunt Win told RFA Burmese on Thursday.

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

Nyunt Win said 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 labor secretary provided no reason for the suspension or indication of its duration.

The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 4 million Myanmar nationals work overseas with the largest number – approximately 2 million – in neighboring Thailand. It’s not clear what percentage of overseas workers are men.

Blocking would-be draft dodgers

However, a representative of an overseas employment agency in Yangon region’s Thingangyun township told RFA on Thursday that the restrictions on working abroad were likely imposed to prevent men from leaving the country amid implementation of the military draft law.

“The junta enacted the conscription law because it wants young men [to join the military],” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “Since the day the law was implemented, large numbers of men have been going abroad either officially or unofficially through various means.”

In comments marking International Labor Day on May 1, Min Aung Hlaing called workers “an essential force for the country,” and said the junta was taking measures to protect their rights abroad.

According to the Burmese Affairs and Conflict Study, the junta has carried out operations to enforce the military service law in 224 townships across the country. Approximately 5,000 young men were sent to 15 military training sites by the end of March, it said.

In addition, more than 2,000 people from 40 townships across Myanmar have been enlisted as militia fighters, the report found.