Passport Rules Relaxed, But Not for Ex-prisoners

By Lawi Weng, Political Parties 20 March 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s government has made it easier for citizens to apply for passports, but some restrictions still apply to former political prisoners, according to an official from the country’s passport-issuing office.

In a notice published by state-run media on Tuesday, the government announced that passport application forms have been reduced from 14 to five pages, and the waiting period shortened to just 10 days, from the previous 21.

Citizens are also no longer required to submit documents proving that they have fully paid their taxes. The only documents applicants now need to show are their national ID cards and household registration papers.

However,  Kyaw Moe, a senior official from the Myanmar Passport Issuing Office, told The Irrawaddy that former prisoners, including political detainees, must still present additional documents and may be subjected to longer waiting periods.

“We need to know what they were put in prison for, and we need to get permission from the government before we issue passports to former prisoners. If their cases are clear and not complicated, it will not take a long time,” he said.

Ye Aung, a member of the working committee from Former Political Prisoner Society in Rangoon, said the continuing restrictions on ex-prisoners were a form of discrimination.

“If we have to bring documents from prison, it creates problems because there are many people who didn’t receive these documents when they were released, and some people have lost them,” he said.

“We are all citizens and should have equal rights. We will not accept this situation, which discriminates among citizens,” he added.

Despite recent political and economic reforms, unemployment is still rife in Burma, creating a strong demand for passports by people seeking jobs abroad. By some estimates, 10 percent of Burma’s workforce is employed in foreign countries.

Late last year, the Burmese government extended the validity of new passports from three to five years.