YANGON—The Karen State immigration minister has vowed to crack down on what local residents say is an influx of illegal Chinese immigrants into Myawady, a town on the border with Thailand, following a brawl between Chinese citizens and local residents.
The town has seen a surge in the number of Chinese immigrants over the past year, since the local Border Guard Force (BGF) started implementing a city expansion project in partnership with a Chinese firm.
Locals have asked the state government to check whether Chinese people who enter the town have valid visas. Some are also in the process of forming a committee with representatives of civil society organizations in order to take the issue into their own hands.
On the evening of Sept. 13, a brawl erupted in Myawady between a group of local residents and seven Chinese people who had urinated in front of a phone shop owned by a local person. The locals filed a complaint against five of the Chinese; two other Chinese fled the scene.
On Sept. 15, local residents held a meeting and called on the government to crack down on illegal Chinese immigration, warning that they would stage a protest if the government failed to take action.
Local residents say Chinese citizens operate casinos and gambling centers in Myawady, and that some have ties to armed groups.
The state government earlier this month formed a team comprising police and officials from the Immigration Department, Directorate of Hotels and Tourism and the township municipal committee. The team is tasked with responding to complaints regarding illegal immigration.
“We are doing all we can within the legal framework. There are many things to consider when dealing with armed groups. We have to negotiate through concerned organizations. But I am sure we will be able to handle the Myawady issue,” said Karen State Immigration and Human Resources Minister U Min Ko Khaing.
But lawyer U Myo Aung, the chairman of a Myawady Township legal aid group, expressed disappointment with the state government’s response. “It is the responsibility of [state government] departments to find out what the Chinese are doing here. By saying they will make arrests upon receiving complaints, they are inviting conflict [between Chinese backed by armed groups and anyone who complains]. It’s dangerous. Sometimes they even say they don’t want to make arrests, but they have to because somebody filed a complaint. If that’s the case, nobody will dare file a complaint.”
According to U Min Ko Khaing, the state government has taken action against four Chinese people under the immigration law for visa violations. The four ran gambling operations from rented houses in the town, he said.
“The rule of law is quite bad in Myawady. The government needs to take action regardless [of the complaints]. I urge everyone to cooperate to address the problem of illegal immigrants and business operations. And those that shelter them should think twice,” U Min Ko Khaing said.
“There are some difficulties, as there are armed groups. And authorities should strictly enforce [the laws]. They should not just stand by and do nothing,” said U Sein Bo, a lawmaker representing Myawady Township in the Lower House of the Union Parliament.
Since 2017, Myanmar Yatai International Holding Group—formed by the BGF-owned Chit Lin Myaing Co. and Chinese conglomerate Jilin Tatai Group—has been implementing a city expansion project in Shwe Kokko, an area on the outskirts of Myawady under BGF control.
According to local residents, there are currently around 3,000 ethnically Chinese people residing in the project area, including those from China, those who are citizens of other countries including Thailand, and Myanmar Chinese from Shan State.
The Myanmar Investment Commission said it has only approved construction of high-end villages in the city expansion project, but according to an Asia Times report the project will also feature casinos, KTV bars and nightclubs. Locals are concerned the project will increase Chinese influence in the area.
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