Myanmar to scrap expat blacklist

Nay Min Tar, a Burmese student activist in exile. Source: Flickr

Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that it will allow exiled citizens on the official “no-entry” blacklist to return, said deputy foreign affairs minister Kyaw Tin on Thursday.

Aung San Suu Kyi, in her role as foreign minister, is keen to tap the skills and experience of the large Burmese diaspora as she looks to rebuild the country. The ministry was working to grant full rights and protection to those who wished to return as well as removing their names from the expat blacklist, deputy foreign minister Kyaw Tin said.

Suu Kyi has told ministries to produce 100-day plans detailing their priorities under the new democratic government. She might have been influenced by the reforming British prime minister Harold Wilson, who was in power when she was a student at Oxford. Wilson promised 100 days of dynamic action when he came to power in 1964.

He said the ministry was mulling visa changes for those living overseas who had lost their citizenship when they were blacklisted. Previously, only 28-day visas were allowed for former Myanmar citizens but now three- to six-month visits will be issued.

Thousands of students, ex-political prisoners and refugees fleeing the union’s many civil wars live overseas, largely in Thailand, the United States, Europe, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

“We will ensure that people who went to foreign countries on account of their political beliefs can return within 100 days by working with relevant ministries, but this does not include those who cannot return home because they have committed crimes,” Kyaw Tin explained.

Naing Aung of the All Burma Students Democratic Front, formed after the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, said: “We welcome the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ plan to remove people from the blacklist and extend visa terms.”

Naing Aung, who was living in exile in Thailand and visited his homeland briefly in 2012 after being removed from the blacklist, told Radio Free Asia’s Myanmar service: “We are trying to return home because we want to work with the new democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It would not be a bad idea to let people who have been working on democracy and human rights since 1988 return home.”

Former president Thein Sein removed the names of nearly 2,100 activists and dissidents living overseas from the blacklist in August 2012 as part of his political reforms. About 4,000 names, however, remained on the list.

Foreign activists, journalists, historians, United Nations officials and Suu Kyi’s two British sons were also among those whose names were removed from the list.