Myanmar Spring Chronicle: Tragedy Strikes at Mandalay Passport Office: Two Lives Lost Amidst Overwhelming Crowds

Tragedy Strikes at Mandalay Passport Office: Two Lives Lost Amidst Overwhelming Crowds

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – February 19, 2024 by MoeMaKa Media

In a heartbreaking turn of events on February 19, two lives were lost in a tragic crush at the passport office in Mandalay. The incident, which occurred during the early morning hours, has sent shockwaves across the nation. This marks a grim escalation in the series of challenges faced by the people of Myanmar since the military coup.

Reports of overcrowded passport-issuing offices have been rife in Yangon since the coup, but never before has such a congested gathering resulted in fatalities. The dire situation is a consequence of the prolonged political and economic crisis exacerbated by the restrictions on travel and passport services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout 2022, hundreds of thousands of individuals queued daily at Yangon’s passport office, seeking the opportunity to travel abroad. Even after a temporary suspension of passport issuance in late 2022 and early 2023, the crowds persisted when the services resumed. With limited employment opportunities domestically and the looming threat of arrest or violence in villages due to the military’s presence, many are compelled to seek work overseas, legally or illegally.

Adding to the plight, the recent implementation of the conscription law has intensified the urgency among citizens to leave the country. Following the announcement on February 10, there was an overnight surge in attempts to cross into neighboring Thailand, not only through official channels but also illicitly.

The incident in Mandalay sheds light on the desperate attempts of individuals to escape conscription, particularly evident in the early morning hours during the curfew. Some even attribute the tragedy to the alleged selling of queue positions, a practice fueled by the scarcity of job opportunities within Myanmar. Individuals waiting in line overnight often resort to selling their spots to those arriving before dawn, seeking a source of income.

The exodus of people striving to obtain passports and seek opportunities abroad, coupled with families attempting to secure education for their children overseas to evade military service, has become a widespread phenomenon. Online platforms are flooded with advertisements offering job placements and enrollment in foreign schools. However, many of these turn out to be fraudulent schemes, with groups posing as brokers exploiting desperate parents and youths.

The impact of the military council’s conscription order is felt across various regions, from Tanintharyi in the south to Kachin State in the north. Fleeing the country for a temporary respite, individuals hope to evade military service during the council’s term, banking on the belief that this period will not extend for years.

Notably, the “Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army” (RCSS/SSA), active in parts of southern, central, and northern Shan State, has reissued its conscription order. Ethnic minorities in Shan State, regardless of gender, between the ages of 18 and 45 are mandated to serve in the military for six years. Additionally, properties of families fleeing abroad for military service are at risk of confiscation.

In regions under the control of ethnic armed groups, residents are exempt from the military council’s conscription law, governed by policies established by existing ethnic armed groups. As conflicts persist in various parts of Myanmar, the two Shan ethnic armed groups, yet to engage with the military council directly, appear to be consolidating their strength by enforcing conscription policies and exerting control over their desired territories. This strategic move positions them to wield influence and power in areas where they demonstrate superior military strength.