Myanmar Workers Detained in China After Motorcycle Rally For Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar permits its overseas citizens and migrant workers to vote at embassies, where voting has already begun for the Nov. 8 elections. Other Myanmar nationals living in China will be able to cast ballots there on Oct. 10-11.
But unlike Myanmar’s workers in other destination countries like South Korea and Japan, most Myanmar workers in Chinese border towns are “negotiated laborers” who do not hold full legal visas that allow them to cross the border freely until the fixed-term document expires. Coronavirus restrictions further complicate travel.
“We want to be able to vote, but because we are abroad, we don’t have the chance to vote,” said a migrant worker released from jail who gave his name as Ko Kyaw. “We are willing to cast our votes though we live far away from our homes [in Myanmar].”
If the migrants return to Myanmar to vote, they will have trouble returning to their jobs in Ruili because of COVID-19 restrictions there, he said.
“That’s why we are calling for an opportunity to vote in Ruili,” Ko Kyaw said.
‘Rules are very solid’
Strict curbs on civil liberties rule out political rallies in China’s one-party state, but Chinese authorities have tightened regulations on public gatherings as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus, especially in border towns.
The Shan state government secured the release of migrant workers through Myanmar Consul General Tun Aung Kyaw in Yunnan’s capital Kunming, who sent a letter to officials in Ruili’s External Affairs Department requesting their release, Soe Nyunt Lwin said.
Chinese authorities, meanwhile, are still holding 200 motorbikes and the immigration documents of those who participated in the rally.
Soe Nyunt Lwin said Myanmar authorities will talk with Chinese regional authorities to find a way to allow the workers to temporarily cross the border into Myanmar to vote and return to their jobs in China without any problems.
RFA contacted Tun Aung Kyaw’s office in Kunming and the Chinese Embassy in Yangon by phone and email for an update, but not one responded.
Hla Kyaw Zawl, the daughter of a former exiled Burmese communist general and an observer of Chinese-Myanmar relations, said Myanmar migrant workers violated China’s COVID-19 restrictions by rallying in large numbers.
“Myanmar citizens in China may have the motivation to show their support for the NLD party, but the rules are very solid here,” she said. “They issued a lockdown order in Ruili for seven full days recently and screened everyone, including Myanmar citizens, for the virus for free.”
In September, Chinese authorities tested the more than 200,000 people living in Ruili for the virus after two Myanmar workers who had been crossing the border illegally were found to be COVID-positive.
“They are working very hard to contain the infection,” Hla Kyaw Zawl said. “Myanmar migrant workers got arrested because they don’t comply with the rules here.”
NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin said he hoped that authorities would make arrangements so the migrant workers could be able to vote with absentee ballots.
“It is good that they showed their support for the NLD by holding a rally,” he said.
“We learned that there are NLD supporters there,” he said. “We are working with local authorities to collect their advance votes in the border town of Muse.”
Myanmar migrant workers in Ruili told RFA that there are more than 100,000 Myanmar nationals working in both Ruili and Jiegao.
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