Myanmar’s military junta continues its authoritarian crackdown on civilians, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis with a new law that particularly affects young men and women. This controversial law mandates forced military service, recruiting civilians to fight against rebel forces. In this article, we explore the details of this law, its consequences, and how we can support those affected through international solidarity. 

Understanding the compulsory military service  

The law mandates conscription for a new range of civilians with severe penalties for refusal: men aged 18-35, women aged 18-27, and professionals up to age 45. On February 15, the Junta spokesperson announced that under the country’s draft law, 50,000 people would be recruited annually. Based on Myanmar’s 2019 transit census, at least 14 million people are eligible to serve. Compulsory military service involves the forced enlistment of individuals into the military against their will, with the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar saying this forced labour is “blatantly abusing and challenging international labour standards.” 

Humanitarian crisis unfolds  

The announcement has created panic across the country, with border areas already seeing an influx of young people fleeing conscription by crossing borders and exposing them to human trafficking risks. Passport offices and embassies are flooded with applications. Two women died in a stampede at a passport office in Mandalay. Immigration towards Thailand has reportedly increased from 1,900 people to 4,000 per day.  

The enforcement of compulsory military service has intensified an already dire humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. Families are torn apart as their loved ones are forcibly conscripted, leaving behind a trail of devastation and despair. This practice perpetuates violence and instability, further deepening the suffering of communities already grappling with conflict and political turmoil.  

Remarkable impact on youth 

Compulsory military service in Myanmar disproportionately harms its youth, denying them education, freedom, and safety. Many endure physical and psychological trauma, trapped in a cycle of violence. Shockingly, over 1,000 Rohingya people (ethnic group subject to discrimination and persecution in Myanmar), despite lacking citizenship, have been abducted or coerced into conscription. Tragically, the bodies of seven Rohingya men have been returned to their families after being forcibly conscripted. A young man took his own life rather than obeying conscription orders, amid allegations of coercion by local junta-appointed administrators and the suspicious death of a Muslim conscript, highlighting the risks faced by those forced into military service. 

Restriction on freedom of movement 

In response to young people fleeing conscription, Myanmar’s military junta has suspended permits for conscription-age men seeking work abroad. Additionally, the junta is restricting border crossings for citizens lacking a Unique Identification Number (UID), necessary for passport-related matters. Delays in the UID application process in Myawaddy, on the border with Thailand, are further complicating travel for residents. This move underscores the junta’s efforts to exert control over the movement of its citizens, thereby restricting their options and opportunities beyond Myanmar’s borders. 

Here’s what we can do to support 

The Myanmar Campaign Network made a set of recommendations to the Australian Government, and we invite you to share with friends, colleagues and community: 

Onshore Assistance: 

  1. Ensure continued prioritisation for Myanmar nationals seeking protection visas and visa extensions in Australia, recognising the extreme risks they face.
  2. Ensure that Australian education providers and Home Affairs maintain Confirmation of Enrolment (COE) and student visas amidst the current situation in Myanmar.
  3. Enable the office of the National Unity Government of Myanmar in Australia to provide consular support for passport extensions of Myanmar nationals in Australia.

Offshore Assistance: 

  1. We urge the Australian government to fulfil its Global Refugee Forum pledge to increase the refugee and humanitarian intake to 27,000 places per year, and places available through complementary pathways to 10,000 per year.
  2. Increase the current 2,000 Refugee Visa (subclass 200) allocations for Myanmar with a focus on gender and age-based prioritisation. Many vulnerable individuals, including women and children, are at risk and in need of urgent assistance.
  3. Establish a targeted quota for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, while taking a leading role in resettling Rohingya refugees out of Bangladesh.
  4. Urgently review the applications for Class XB visas, and process these as a priority. As of January 2024, 50% of applications are pending, and only 14% of applications have been granted.

Diplomatic Engagement 

  1. Collaborate with ASEAN and Myanmar’s neighbouring countries to prevent the refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers, to provide mechanisms for their safety, and to seek a solution to the issue of stalled exit visas for refugees from Myanmar.
  2. Collaborate with UNHCR to allocate more resources to increase registration and support for those displaced from Myanmar.



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