Young People Discouraged by Life in Myanmar Queue For Passports to Leave the Country

Many hope to escape life under military rule and find work outside the country to help support their families.
2021.09.27
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Young People Discouraged by Life in Myanmar Queue For Passports to Leave the Country Applicants queue in front of a passport office in Yankin township in Yangon, Myanmar, Sept. 22, 2021.
RFA

Young people disheartened by life in Myanmar following the February military coup are trying in growing numbers to leave the country, hoping to escape army rule and find work to help support their families, sources in the country say.

More people are applying for passports at a recently reopened office in Yankin township in the Yangon region that had been closed amid a new surge of COVID-19 in Myanmar, an agent who helps would-be emigrants obtain travel papers told RFA last week.

The number started climbing following the Feb. 1 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government of national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the official said.

“The number then rose a little more on Sept. 13, by about 30 percent, and now it’s more than ever. There are a lot of people now,” he said.

Most of those trying to leave Myanmar are hoping to go to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, one man applying for a passport said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Many in Myanmar want to stay in the country and join the resistance to military rule, but others have families enduring financial hardship, the man said.

“I’m the oldest of five siblings, and when I get [to Japan] I’ll be able to support my family and make my own future,” he said. “There are always those who want to confront a problem when it arises, but there are others who would prefer to avoid that problem and turn away.”

“As someone who wants to live in peace, I have to admit that I am shying away,” he said.

Another Yangon resident speaking on condition her name not be used said that the future of young people in Myanmar is now uncertain following the coup.

“Young people lost their futures after the coup. If they stay here, they will have to struggle a lot,” she said. “They have to think about their lives, and some of them think that going to school abroad and taking up a job is the best chance they’ll have to improve their lives and work for their future.”

“From a national point of view, this is a loss of talent for the country, though,” she said.

The young woman added that she is currently working part-time to support her family, but has decided to go abroad to work in the face of low wages and rising commodity prices in Myanmar.

“Currently, no one has been officially allowed to leave the country to work,” said Peter Nyunt Maung, vice-chairman of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), noting that Myanmar suspended sending workers abroad in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The passport office has just reopened, but no one has been allowed to go to any country yet. People just want to get themselves prepared,” he said, adding that though brokers and agents are now active, young people hoping to leave Myanmar may find themselves disappointed in the end.

The World Bank said in a July 2021 statement that an estimated one million people in Myanmar will be left without work because of the country’s third wave of COVID-19 infections and social and economic disruptions caused by the military coup.

In the nearly eight months since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,136 civilians and arrested at least 6,850, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—many during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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