Myanmar regime cancels passports of expatriates in Singapore

As the military regime finds ways to target resistance supporters at home and abroad, Myanmar nationals in Singapore are discovering their passports are invalid when they try to travel internationally

Singapore authorities informed several citizens of Myanmar residing in the country that their passports had been invalidated without a clear explanation in recent months, according to the passport-holders. 

Between August and October, at least three citizens of Myanmar—all of whom had received “blue cards” granting them permanent residency (PR) in Singapore—learned that their passports had been cancelled.

People who have obtained PR status are allowed to live in Singapore indefinitely, but are only allowed to travel outside the country with a valid passport from their country of origin.

The Myanmar nationals only learned that their passports were no longer valid when they were informed by immigration officials at the airport when they tried to leave Singapore.

May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, who has a PR card and has been living in Singapore for close to 16 years, said she found out her passport had been cancelled at Singapore’s Changi Airport on August 21, a few hours before her scheduled flight to Thailand. 

“When I arrived at the airport, the immigration officers told me that my passport was invalid and that I couldn’t go to another country. They said that I might be someone who opposed the current government, and that the cancellation was exclusively for me,” May Kyaw Soe Nyunt said, referring to the Myanmar military council. 

“They said that it was the first time they had seen something like this in their lives,” she added. 

May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, 51, manages a Burmese food shop in Singapore, and has donated part of the business’s proceeds to the anti-junta resistance in Myanmar. 

“They said that since I’m a permanent resident, I should stay in Singapore. They said it would be safer for me. They told me not to go to any other country if possible. They said even if they let me leave, I would not be able to enter another country and would have problems,” May Kyaw Soe Nyunt said. 

She added that although this was a problem for her, it was minor compared to the hardships faced by people still in Myanmar.

“This passport is a certification of identity for a person living abroad, and I have the feeling that I’ve lost my identity. Anyone would feel the same,” May Kyaw Soe Nyunt said. “But it’s nothing compared to those who are really fighting, really struggling, and really suffering inside Myanmar.”

May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, who runs a shop in Singapore and sends funds to the anti-junta resistance in Myanmar, found out in August that her Myanmar passport had been voided.

More Myanmar expatriates’ passports cancelled 

Last week, two Myanmar passport-holders residing in Singapore also learned they were unable to travel abroad because of invalidated passports, but they asked to remain annonymous out of concern for their families’ safety. 

Immigration officers prevented one of the passport-holders, a man, from leaving Singapore for the same reason as May Kyaw Soe Nyunt. They also blocked an elderly man from re-entering Singapore when he returned from a business trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, with a cancelled Myanmar passport. 

Unlike May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, neither of the two men said they had helped fund Myanmar’s anti-junta resistance, but they admitted having contact with the military regime’s opponents in the past. 

“None of the three Myanmar nationals’ passports were due for expiration yet. It seems that the Myanmar military council has done something to revoke these passport numbers’ validity,” said an activist raising funds for the Myanmar resistance in Singapore.

The activist requested that his name and his organisation’s name be withheld to protect the safety of his relatives in Myanmar.

The military council has not issued any statements about the passport cancellations. Myanmar Now was unable to reach the Myanmar embassy in Singapore by telephone, and received no reply after sending questions by email.

Pro-junta propaganda channels on the messaging app Telegram have called for the arrest of Myanmar expatriates, or their family members, who fund the resistance. Posts on these channels have specifically called for action against the population of Myanmar nationals in Singapore, who have earned a reputation as strong supporters of the anti-junta resistance.

One of the pro-junta Propaganda channels on Telegram.

Junta tightens its grip in Myanmar and abroad

Given the opaque nature of the passport cancellation, hundreds of Myanmar nationals in Singapore may no longer have valid passports and not know it..

This could create substantial difficulties for expatriate citizens of Myanmar, especially those supporting the resistance against the military regime at home. 

A construction engineer said the junta embassy was in a position to inflict real harm on Myanmar passport-holders in other countries.

“The problem is that they have the authorisation to cancel the passports at any time. So everyone here is worried,” said the engineer, who has been working in Singapore for close to seven years.

Moe Zaw Oo, deputy foreign affairs minister of the publicly mandated, anti-junta National Unity Government (NUG), said he and his colleagues were working to help Myanmar citizens whose passports have been cancelled, and that they plan to meet with them in the next few days.

“The terrorist military council does not provide help to Myanmar citizens abroad, and looks for ways to persecute and intimidate them. We are trying to provide the best assistance we can based on the different circumstances affecting each country and each individual,” the NUG deputy minister said. 

The Myanmar military junta has revoked the citizenship of a number of NUG government ministers and other expatriate resistance members and has imposed restrictions against the renewal of passports held by anyone associated with the resistance.

The junta has also enacted a tax law that may force millions of expatriate workers to pay extortionate fees as a condition for renewing their passports and has ordered that workers living abroad remit at least 25 percent of their foreign earnings to their relatives in Myanmar.

Nearly every day, junta-controlled newspapers are publishing warnings against using mobile phone games and applications created to raise funds for anti-junta forces, or otherwise aiding and abetting the NUG and other resistance groups that the junta has designated as terrorist organisations. 

The junta also claims the authority to charge anyone helping to fund resistance groups under various statutes, including the Counter-Terrorism Law and laws against incitement of violence. 

Singapore’s and the Myanmar resistance

In 2019, Singaporean authorities deported six Rakhine people from Myanmar including Hein Zaw, chair of the Arakan Association Singapore, and Aung Myat Kyaw, the brother of Arakan Army (AA) leader Twan Mrat Naing. 

The deportees were arrested when they arrived in Myanmar. Aung Myat Kyaw was charged with terrorism for allegedly sending funds to the AA, an ethnic armed organisation designated as a terrorist group by the Myanmar military. 

In addition to these deportations and arrests, a Rakhine man who had been working in Singapore claimed to be one of several Rakhine people supporting the AA who were denied extensions on their Singaporean visas.

The man added that the Singaporean government contacted his employer and revoked his work permit.

“My office told me that the Singapore government said I did something related to politics in Singapore,” he said. “They sent my office a letter telling them not to hire me again and to replace me with someone else.”

It remains unclear whether the Singaporean government is cooperating with the Myanmar junta in the process of invalidating passports. 

Myanmar Now contacted officials at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority but did not receive a response. 

As more information about the violence in Myanmar reaches the international community, Singapore’s relationship with the Myanmar regime has come under scrutiny.

Research by United Nations analysts on the situation of human rights in Myanmar alleges that Singapore serves as an intermediary in the supply of arms to the Myanmar military, and that Singaporean banks are facilitating the transaction of payments for weapons. 

During a parliamentary session earlier this year, Singapore’s foreign affairs minister noted that the research’s claims did not clearly distinguish weapons from dual-use equipment sold to the Myanmar military and that more specific information was needed to assess Singaporean entities’ role in enabling arms procurement. 

According to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, there are currently more than 200,000 workers from Myanmar in the country. 

Under Singapore’s strict legal limits on public demonstrations, it is virtually impossible for Myanmar workers there to stage protests against the junta in the streets. However, many Myanmar citizens in Singapore are actively involved in raising and sending funds to support the anti-junta resistance and displaced people in Myanmar.

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