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Authorities tighten restrictions on passport process for Myanmar nationals in Thailand

The junta-controlled consulate in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai announced this week that Myanmar nationals living in Thailand will have to follow new, more onerous rules in renewing their passports. 

According to a statement issued by the Chiang Mai consular office on Monday, Myanmar nationals holding visit (PV) or student (PE) passports will need to present reference letters from their parents and from relevant police, residential ward, and government officials in order to maintain their passport status and remain in Thailand legally. 

In addition, applicants will need to submit handwritten letters documenting their activities in Thailand, and students will have to present supporting documents from their schools, according to the junta consulate’s statement. 

The statement also noted that the consulate is not authorised to approve or deny passport renewals, even when applicants submit all the necessary documents, which will be referred to the relevant department instead. Passport renewals for Myanmar nationals in Thailand are reportedly managed by a department based in Naypyitaw.

The new restrictions do not apply to holders of employment (PJ) passports in Thailand. 

It remains unclear whether the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, which also handles passport-related matters, will observe the same new rules. However, according to three Myanmar businesses providing passport services, both the embassy and the consulate have both now suspended passport renewals for students holding PV passports.

Although the new requirements were only announced this week, the Chiang Mai consulate has effectively been enforcing them since early 2023. 

The consular office in Chiang Mai confirmed that the announcement was true when contacted by Myanmar Now.

The consulate’s new rules may be nearly impossible to follow for people with deceased parents or without immediate access to their identification cards or household registration certificates.

Moreover, critics of the new requirements argue that they amount to an attempt by the military council to impose control on Myanmar nationals opposed to the junta, many of whom began living in Thailand legally after the coup and participating in political activities from abroad. 

Submitting the full range of documents required for passport renewal will give the military council access to applicants’ detailed information. An applicant’s family members or other referees run the risk of blackmail or intimidation if the applicant is found to have engaged in anti-junta activities, said a Myanmar national living in Chiang Mai and speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The documents are not necessary as supporting documents. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said, referring to the documents required under the new rules.

“[The junta] is abusing its power even beyond its own claimed territory. This is being done to obstruct freedom of expression; they are stopping people from freely expressing what they believe even in a foreign country,” the woman said.

Amid deteriorating economic and security conditions in Myanmar since the military deposed the civilian government in 2021, many Myanmar nationals have sought to work abroad but faced prohibitive difficulties in obtaining or renewing their passports. Myanmar nationals already staying in foreign countries face similar obstacles created by corrupt and unaccommodating consular staff abroad.

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