Young Burmese Scramble to Leave Country as Conscription Looms


In Myanmar, the recent imposition of mandatory military conscription has sparked widespread panic and desperation among its young population, leading to tragic incidents and a mass exodus in search of refuge. Following the military coup on February 1, 2021, which saw the detention of elected leaders and the initiation of a brutal civil conflict, the nation has been plunged into chaos, with thousands killed and approximately 2.6 million displaced, according to the United Nations. The military government’s announcement requiring young Burmese, particularly men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27, to serve in the armed forces for at least two years, has been met with fierce resistance from those who have been at the forefront of opposing the junta’s rule.

The conscription order is seen by many as a desperate attempt by the military to bolster its ranks after suffering significant territorial losses to armed resistance groups. Young activists and citizens, who have been pivotal in resisting the junta, now face the grim prospect of being forced to fight for a regime they have vehemently opposed. This has led to a frantic rush for passports and visas, with scenes of chaos unfolding outside passport offices and embassies. Reports of injuries and even deaths in the ensuing turmoil underscore the dire situation faced by those desperate to escape the military’s grasp.

The military’s strategy, which includes the conscription of civilians into its ranks, is criticized as a measure that exacerbates the already dire human rights situation in Myanmar. Critics argue that the law, which was introduced in 2010 but only recently enforced, reflects the military’s weakness and its dire need for personnel. Despite the junta’s claims that exemptions would be granted to various groups, the credibility of these assurances is widely doubted, leading to fears that no one is truly safe from conscription.


The response to the conscription announcement has been varied, with some young people looking to evade service by entering monkhood or getting married early, while others have chosen to join the resistance against the military. The international community has expressed concern over the potential for increased refugee flows into neighboring countries, as many young Burmese seek to escape the junta’s reach. This situation not only represents a humanitarian crisis but also threatens to destabilize the region further.

Observers note that the military’s attempts to enforce conscription are likely to be counterproductive, highlighting the growing resentment against the junta and the potential for even greater resistance. The situation in Myanmar is a stark reminder of the devastating impact of military rule on a country’s youth, who have seen their education, dreams, and futures disrupted or destroyed by ongoing conflict and oppression. The forced conscription law not only represents a violation of human rights but also signifies the junta’s desperation in the face of widespread opposition and diminishing control over the country.

The plight of Myanmar’s youth, forced into a situation where they must choose between fighting for a regime they despise, fleeing their homeland, or facing severe penalties, is a tragic testament to the ongoing struggle for democracy and freedom in the face of authoritarian rule. The international community’s response to this crisis, and the support provided to those fleeing persecution, will be crucial in the coming months as Myanmar continues to navigate a path fraught with violence, resistance, and the quest for a peaceful resolution.

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Staff Report

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