02/21/2024, 18.05
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As Myanmar begins to enforce conscription, Thailand curbs work visas

by Steve Suwannarat

The Thai government wants to avoid a diplomatic row with Myanmar’s military regime. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin recently announced that illegal migrants will be dealt with in accordance with the law, a possible sign of coming expulsions and pushback if migratory flows pick up.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Thai government is concerned about the flow of Myanmar nationals following the decision by Myanmar’s ruling military junta to enforce the country’s conscription law for men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 as of 1 April.

As the deadline approaches, the exodus of people from Myanmar is likely to increase, and Thailand is already grappling with hard choices regarding people fleeing its neighbour’s civil war.

Some estimate that more than two million people might come across the more porous border with Thailand, in the eastern part of the country, but the flows may also pick up elsewhere in the coming months.

Faced with the prospect of a wave of young people fleeing Myanmar’s military, Thai authorities are imposing greater selectivity and quotas for work visas, fearful that many applicants might become fugitives from their country.

As a preventive measure, and to avoid a diplomatic row, the two countries have signed an agreement to block the flow of Myanmar workers to Thailand.

The daily flow into Thailand of some 700-800 Myanmar migrants has been interrupted, making the situation even more complicated for many families who, after the coup of 1 February 2021, found themselves in economic difficulty.

But these decisions are also a direct consequence of a substantial inability of regional powers and organisations to mediate between the parties in Myanmar’s internal conflict.

In the past, Thailand was relatively liberal with respect to migrants, but it has been increasingly cracking down recently, relying on the fact that it is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

This has rekindled domestic discussions about the best response to humanitarian crises. Some fear that as time goes by and flows rise, the Thai government might start expelling people.

This appears to be the orientation taken by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin who a few days ago stated that illegal migrants will be dealt with through the law, while raids against migrants will continue in the regions near the Myanmar border.

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