VISA ON ARRIVAL: A discrimination act for former Myanmar citizens?

Tourists from six countries, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Russia, can now enter Myanmar with no requirement for pre-arranged approval.

Accordingly, tourists can make use of the visa on arrival access for US$50 each and enter the country at Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw international airports beginning October 1, with a duration of 30 days stay.

While the move is laudable and might possibly increased the incoming tourist count and the revenue that comes with it, many former Myanmar citizens are disappointed, even edgy and feel the discrimination by the government meted out on them, as they are barred from making use of the visa-on-arrival to visit their former homeland.

An announcement made by the Myanmar Embassy in Canberra, dated July 5, 2019, wrote at the end of the announcement :

Note: Visa on Arrival (Tourist) is only for Australians who are not born in Myanmar. Australians who were born in Myanmar (Ex Myanmar Citizens) must apply for Social Visit Visa at the Myanmar Embassy, Canberra.

This regulation covers all naturalized citizens, who originated from Myanmar.

Social Visit Visa is understood as a thorough screening of ex-Myanmar citizens, who may be hostile or against the Myanmar government, especially those who left the country after 1988 uprising that dislodged the military government of Burma Socialist Programme Party. Apart from that the ruling also covered many non-Bamar former ethnic resistance fighters and their families who might have acquired foreign citizenship in the West, one way or the other.

A weekly radio commentary program of Radio Free Asia (RFA) titled Opening the Doors hosted by Aung Moe Win, commenting in its recent airtime pointed out that the discrimination nature of the announcement as inadequate, inappropriate and uncalled for, for a government that prides itself to be striving for democracy. It accused the National League for Democracy (NLD) civilian government as not much of a difference to the successive military governments’ attitude towards exiled Myanmar community.

He said the NLD prioritizes welcoming the economic development but discriminate its former citizens by screening their entry through government embassies’ Social Visa Visit program.

Although it is clear that the NLD can’t do much as the interior ministry is in the hand of the military or Tatmadaw, many think that it is the same in its hostile attitude against the exile democratic elements. And on top of it, the NLD never makes its position clear regarding the ex-Myanmar citizens.

Aung Myo Min pointed out that in the US when its citizens reenter the country they are greeted with welcome and courtesy regardless of the skin colors. But in Myanmar the white skin are greeted with admiration and courtesy, while its own ex-citizens with foreign citizenship are looked down upon, and at times, with jealous attitude. And they are not even allowed to make use of the visa on arrival program.

He said that it may be laughable and may even amount to racial discrimination to many who take notice of the ruling.

One foreign traveler was said to be surprised when he heard of the situation and remarked that it was unacceptable that the Myanmar government treated ex-Myanmar democratic elements in such a discriminatory way.

The misunderstanding and jealousy even could be seen within the Myanmar politicians, as they said while they suffered in jails, the exile could live a comfortable life and also study. But they didn’t see the point that many exile get involve in media, intelligentsia and lobby groups to promote and keep the democratic movement alive from abroad, when it wasn’t necessary to do it during military rule.

When China set out a reform course under Deng Xiaoping, many were sent to study in the West. They were accepted back heartily to develop the country. China leadership had shown confidence in its own policy implementation and didn’t shy away from western educated Chinese return.

Myanmar should do likewise and should not see western educated exiles as potential enemies.

One former democracy activist who has returned a couple of times to Myanmar bitterly complained that while he could understand that the government likes to screen the criminal elements before their entry, people like him who have gone in and out several times should benefit from the visa on arrival, reported Aung Myo Min in his RFA radio session recently.

In sum, the act of NLD government could be seen as a racial discrimination and segregation on its ex-citizens, which is not at all in line with the international norms, in the first place. Moreover, a mindset of inferiority complex leading to rejection of outside ideas, especially from the exile democratic elements, could be the likely reason for such screening and blockage.

If these are the real reasons, it is high time that the NLD regime starts to review its policy on its ex-citizens. And the best place to start, on the eve of 2020 national election, is to extend visa on arrival coverage to all of its ex-citizens to show its broad-mindedness and largesse, which would put itself in good stead.