Myanmar citizens contemplate fleeing to Thailand to avoid army conscription

Myanmar’s military’s conscription announcement has left many feeling trapped amid unrest, with observers fearing a potential mass departure exacerbating the civil war-like situation post-coup.

Following Myanmar’s military announcement of conscription, 25-year-old schoolteacher Thwel feels trapped with limited options. She expresses her dilemma of considering illegal migration or remaining amidst the country’s unrest. Observers fear a potential mass departure of young talent, exacerbating instability stemming from the ongoing civil war-like situation post-military takeover.


Thwel, residing in Myanmar’s southern Mon state, faces sporadic combat between the military and resistance forces, prompting her anonymity for protection. Like many professionals, she joined the Civil Disobedience Movement opposing military rule after the 2021 coup. The military’s manpower strain intensifies due to resilient pro-democracy resistance and ethnic minority armed groups. In recent months, opposition forces have achieved significant victories, capturing key areas in northern Shan and Rakhine states, bordering China, escalating tensions.


On February 10, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, head of Myanmar’s ruling military council, activated the 2010 conscription law to bolster depleted ranks amid efforts to suppress a nationwide pro-democracy uprising. All healthy men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 must register for two years of military service. Evading conscription carries a penalty of three to five years in prison plus a fine.


Of Myanmar’s 56 million population, approximately 14 million individuals, comprising 6.3 million men and 7.7 million women, are eligible for military service, according to Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the military government spokesperson. The government plans to conscript 60,000 individuals annually, with an initial 5,000 set to be called up shortly after the mid-April Thingyan New Year celebration. Following public outcry, Zaw Min Tun clarified that there is currently no intention to enlist women into military service, providing temporary relief for individuals like schoolteacher Thwel.


However, many individuals are actively seeking means to evade conscription.
The area surrounding the Thai embassy in Yangon is filled with individuals vying for numbered appointment tickets as they apply for visas. Due to overwhelming demand, the embassy has limited daily visa appointments to 400, requiring online booking. Approximately 7,000 Myanmar nationals have applied for visas, as reported by Thailand’s Bangkok Post.

In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, the state passport office witnesses long queues daily, with 4,000-5,000 people vying for 200-250 appointment tickets. Tragically, two women died and one was injured in a rush to secure an early spot in line. Concerns over Myanmar’s conscription law have prompted individuals to consider leaving the country. A 32-year-old news translator from Yangon flew to Thailand after the announcement, fearing the military’s labyrinthine system. Similarly, a 26-year-old journalist in Mandalay, fearing legal repercussions, plans to escape to Thailand amid growing restrictions on journalists’ freedoms.


The Institute for Strategy and Policy warns that conscription may lead to a mass exodus, increased human rights abuses, and heightened corruption. It predicts that youth from conflict-affected regions may join ethnic minority armed groups or pro-democracy resistance forces. The institute estimates a decrease in military personnel from 160,000 before the coup to fewer than 100,000 presently due to casualties, desertions, and defections.
Ethnic resistance factions like the Arakan Army and Shan State Progress Party have welcomed individuals to seek sanctuary in their controlled territories. The Karen National Union in Kayin State has committed to providing support. Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, a key pro-democracy entity, has stated that citizens are not obliged to adhere to the conscription law, encouraging them to escalate their involvement in opposing military rule.


The People’s Defense Force, the armed wing of the National Unity Government in Yangon, has initiated a recruitment campaign, receiving approximately 1,000 online applications within 12 hours.
Moe Kyaw of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association-Thailand reports that over 1,000 working-age Myanmar nationals are crossing into Thailand daily following the conscription announcement.