'Brain drain' follows military coup
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'Brain drain' follows military coup

Three years after the coup on Feb 1, 2021, the Myanmar military government, aka the "Tatmadaw", has suffered significant losses as a result of the 1027 operation by the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BTA), which started in October.

The 3BTA comprises the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army. Other armed ethnic organisations and the People's Defence Forces (PDFs) from different areas are intensifying their efforts to seize and control their areas. In contrast, the military council continues to consolidate power and employ various tactics to maintain its authority. The National Unity Government (NUG) is currently working to limit the military's control over various parts of Myanmar. It also aims to counter the military's influence and gradually establish de facto rule throughout the nation.

The coup, the ongoing civil war and the Covid-19 pandemic have brought Myanmar's economy to its knees. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 1.8 million jobs were lost in Myanmar in 2021. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated in 2022 that an estimated 25 million people -- almost half of the total population of 54.78 million -- lived below the national poverty line. Currently, 18.6 million people across Myanmar are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The US government's decision to sanction two major military banks, namely the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) and the Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB), has had a profound impact on the economy, dealing a significant blow to their financial stability.

As a result, the military found itself facing a severe income shortage. To compensate for the loss of income, they resorted to the strategy of printing new currency notes. This move was an attempt to inject more money into the economy and address the financial challenges it was facing. However, such actions led to potential risks, such as inflation, and further economic instability. In addition, the State Administration Council (SAC), formed by the military, is attempting to address the collapsing economy by imposing public policies, such as a 2% income tax on migrant workers abroad. The policy states that only those who pay the tax will be eligible for passport renewal and other ID cards, which creates a significant challenge for regular workers or those who want to apply for regularisation of their migration status. In response, migrant workers abroad have staged protests against this taxation, which they believe will be used to torture and kill Myanmar people instead of promoting economic development in the nation.

As if civilians have not suffered enough, the SAC announced the enforcement of "the People's Military Service Law" on Feb 10. This conscription law requires all male citizens aged 18 to 35 and all female citizens aged 18 to 27 to perform military service.

This law has endangered the lives of young people from Myanmar, locally and abroad. Fear of arrest and deportation has gripped Myanmar migrants in Malaysia and Thailand. For instance, the Malaysian government has been detaining the undocumented to reduce the country's migrant population. Likewise, the Thai government recently arrested over 100 young Myanmar civilians who fled the conscription law.

Since youths in Myanmar refuse to serve under the country's brutal military regime, the military needs to use force to enforce the law. The aim is to recruit over 5,000 people by the end of this month and eventually over 60,000 by the end of this year. Hence, those who can afford to leave and find jobs in new lands fled the country, resulting in a "brain drain" -- a term that describes the substantial emigration of skilled and educated individuals.

But the majority of young Myanmar cannot afford to leave. It needs to be mentioned that the cost of obtaining a passport is approximately 16–19 lakhs, which is equivalent to US$900 (33,000 baht). So, they have to run away to neighbouring countries such as Thailand.

Myanmar migrant workers are particularly afraid of "transnational repression" (TNR), which involves the military targeting dissidents abroad. The conscription law has heightened these fears, as it states that students studying abroad will not have their visas renewed to ensure their return for military service.

Neighbouring countries -- Thailand, Malaysia and India -- may not ratify all international refugee conventions and local laws might enable them to send illegal migrants back home. Yet, these illegal migrants and refugees are running away from a dire situation at home and, as refugees, they live in fear of discrimination, arrests and deportation. They only wish for a safe and dignified life. Therefore, neighbouring countries must ensure the protection and well-being of these vulnerable groups.

Tual Sawn Khai is a Research Associate at the School of Graduate Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. Aung Myo Htun is a staff member of Minority Rights Advocacy.

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