7,000 Myanmar citizens seeking Thai visas

7,000 Myanmar citizens seeking Thai visas

Thousands looking to flee as military junta prepares to impose mandatory conscription

Myanmar nationals queue outside the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon earlier this week. (Photo: Kannavee Suebsang Facebook page)
Myanmar nationals queue outside the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon earlier this week. (Photo: Kannavee Suebsang Facebook page)

More than 7,000 Myanmar nationals have applied for visas with the Thai embassy in Yangon as mandatory conscription looms in the military-ruled country, figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show.

Spokeswoman Kanchana Patarachoke said the embassy had doubled the number of online queue tickets available to 800 a day: 400 issued by the embassy and another 400 by VFS Global, an outsourcing and services company used by diplomatic missions worldwide.

Places are fully booked until March 1, and the number of applications is expected to keep rising, she said on Thursday.

Ms Kanchana said Myanmar citizens could enter Thailand without visas under the Asean agreement, but the maximum stay is just 14 days.

But thousands of Myanmar nationals have been rushing to leave the country since the military junta announced that it planned to call up young people for mandatory service starting in April.

All men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 would be required to serve in the military for at least two years, it said.

When asked whether the rush for visas was prompted by mandatory conscription, Ms Kanchana said there was no clear information that the two developments were linked.

Two people were killed in a crush outside a Myanmar government passport office in Mandalay on Monday, a rescue worker told AFP, as thousands queued to get documents.

Three years after seizing power in a coup, the military is struggling to crush widespread armed opposition to its rule.

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

Thai authorities have been bracing for an influx of people from Myanmar, and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has warned against illegal entry.

“They are welcome if they enter the country legally. But if they sneak into the country illegally, legal action will be taken against them. I have already discussed the matter with security agencies,” Mr Srettha said.

An opposition MP has called on the government to help Myanmar citizens who are fleeing to Thailand on humanitarian grounds.

Kannavee Suebsang of the FAIR Party said the Myanmar junta had suspended exports of labourers to Thailand via legal channels under the mutual agreement between the two countries.

Previously, 700 to 800 workers from the neighbouring country were crossing the border legally on a daily basis and being sent to employers in various provinces, said Mr Kannavee, who visited the border town of Mae Sot in Tak province this week.

“I am not sure whether the suspension of (legal) migrant workers has anything to do with the situation in Myanmar,” he said.

If the two issues were linked and Thailand sat idle or acted to push Myanmar nationals back to their country where they could become conscripts, this would become a big issue, said Mr Kannavee.

With the provision of legal Myanmar workers on hold, Thailand should draw up a plan to deal with the labour situation in the first six months of this year. This could include allowing Myanmar nationals who had fled because of conscription fears to seek work in Thailand, he said.

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