Forced to Fight, Forced to Flee

June 8th, 2024  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“We also feel sorry that it is impossible for us to return home at all, but it is absolutely impossible to accept [the draft]…[the junta leader] is sacrificing innocent young people like us.”

Since February 2024, the Myanmar military junta has been violently and remorselessly snatching Myanmar’s young people from their families and communities for its forced conscription. This is part of the junta’s latest wave of deliberate violence against Myanmar’s young generations who are courageously resisting its illegal coup attempt. Over the past four months, the junta—blatantly desperate amid major losses of territory and personnel—forcibly conscripted two batches of young adults, abducting, extorting, and terrorizing Myanmar’s people at every turn. As a result, countless young people have been forced to flee across international borders to escape the junta’s forced recruitment, but protection remains far from guaranteed.

According to media reports, the junta claims to have sent its first batch of around 5,000 forced conscripts to training on 27 March, and its second batch of around 4,000 on 14 May.

Scrambling to fill its ranks, the junta has wasted no time switching its forced conscription tactics from sending letters and conducting lotteries to abducting young people off the street. In early May in Aunglan Town, Magwe Region, the junta forcibly recruited individuals at gunpoint after those whose names were listed for conscription fled the town. The junta arrested young men at road checkpoints and sent them away to military training. It is obvious that “conscription” and “recruitment” are complete misnomers for the junta’s violent capturing of youth for its countrywide campaign of terror against the people.

The junta also continues to ruthlessly target Rohingya for forced conscription. In late May, in Rakhine State, junta troops in Sittwe ordered more than 10 internment camps for displaced Rohingya to provide around 30 people each for forced conscription. The junta threatened to block international food aid if they refused. Also of grave concern is Rohingya being abducted from camps in Bangladesh by armed Rohingya gangs and handed over to the junta, which almost immediately forces them to the frontlines—where the junta is losing severely to the Arakan Army—as human shields.

It has never been clearer just how desperate the military junta is. One Naypyidaw-based junta administrator involved in forced conscription told Myanmar Now in May, “We managed to send off the first batch [of conscripts], but we don’t even have a list of names for the second batch. At this point, we’re just telling recruiters to grab anyone they see outside at night.” And for its third batch, the junta has also begun forcibly conscripting women in Ayeyarwaddy and Bago Regions.

Across the country, to avoid forced conscription, some young adults and their families have been forced by junta personnel to pay between 500,000 and 5 million Myanmar Kyats (USD $240 and $23,830), leaving some in severe debt with no guarantee of exemption. Being selected for forced conscription has also driven some to commit suicide rather than take up arms for the junta.

Left with few options to save their own lives, countless young people are making moves to escape forced conscription, even as the junta tightens restrictions on leaving the country. Many are joining resistance forces, supporting communities in resistance-controlled areas, or embarking on dangerous journeys across international borders. Since February, Thai authorities have arrested more than 900 Myanmar people for undocumented entry along the Thailand-Myanmar border—with the majority stating that they were fleeing the junta’s forced conscription. On several occasions, Thai authorities have forcibly returned individuals to Myanmar. In Malaysia, over 1,000 Myanmar people have been arrested since December 2023.

Seeking international protection by crossing borders is not a crime—it’s a human right! Any forced return of Myanmar people clearly violates international law, as they will certainly face irreparable harm by the junta upon return. The junta will surely forcibly conscript any returned young adults and send them to the frontlines where they have no choice but to kill their peers—who are fighting against the military junta for a better future—or die. With regional peace and stability as a top priority, Myanmar’s neighboring countries must end the arbitrary detention, deportations, and pushbacks of Myanmar people fleeing the military’s violence.

It is also imperative that neighboring countries provide legal protection for Myanmar people fleeing the junta’s forced conscription and ongoing mass atrocity crimes. This protection must include legal immigration status, work permits, and access to formal education, healthcare, and other essential services. In tandem, the UN Security Council must fulfill its mandate for peace and security by coordinating Myanmar’s neighboring countries to expedite protection and humanitarian aid for Myanmar’s people.

For those fleeing the junta’s forced conscription, many have escaped to areas in Myanmar under resistance forces’ control—where the junta has no access. In such areas, only local groups have the years of experience, knowledge, and trust required to provide the much-needed humanitarian assistance to those who’ve fled the junta’s violence. These groups are already supporting those fleeing forced conscription. In turn, Myanmar’s neighbors and the wider international community must support these local, trusted frontline humanitarian responders by allowing cross-border channels for them to deliver emergency aid to Myanmar’s most vulnerable in its border regions, as well as central and upper Myanmar.

Without delay, legal protection and robust humanitarian aid are necessary to address the grave realities that Myanmar’s young people are facing. A 23-year-old who fled to Thailand after appearing on a junta conscription list told Radio Free Asia, “We also feel sorry that it is impossible for us to return home at all, but it is absolutely impossible to accept [the draft]…[the junta leader] is sacrificing innocent young people like us.”


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”