YANGON — The U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has imposed sanctions on senior officials at two Myanmar Ministries — including one controlled by the military — for failing to cooperate in accepting Myanmar citizens ordered to be deported from the U.S.
DHS on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Embassy in Yangon to begin denying visas to officials at the director-general level and above at the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population (MOLIP) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA). The sanctions also apply to the officials’ immediate family members.
According to DHS’ official statement, the new restrictions apply to business and tourist visas.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Aryani Manring told The Irrawaddy, “Myanmar has repeatedly failed to issue travel documents for individuals under final order of removal from the United States.”
The U.S. is one of the major destinations for refugees from Myanmar, a large number of whom entered the country around 2008. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 110,000 refugees from Myanmar have settled in the U.S.
At the Home Affairs Ministry, the officials affected by the visa sanctions are Union Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant-General Kyaw Swe; and Major-General Aung Soe, the deputy minister. The Home Affairs Ministry oversees the Police Force, General Administration Department, Bureau of Special Investigation Department, Prisons Department and Fire Services Department.
At the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, Union Minister U Thein Swe is affected by the visa sanctions. The ministry’s sub-departments are the Department of Labor, Social Security Board, Factory and General Labor Laws Inspection Department, and Department of Labor Relations. According to DHS, both senior level officials and family members are to be denied business and tourist visas to enter the U.S.
There are currently no restrictions on student visas for the affected officials or their immediate family members, the embassy spokesperson said.
The suspension will remain in place until the secretary of homeland security notifies the U.S. secretary of state that cooperation on removals has improved to an acceptable level. The DHS also placed sanctions on the government of Laos at the same time, according to the statement.
According to DHS, a deportation order is issued when a non-US citizen violates the terms of their visa, is found to be undocumented, or commits a crime on U.S. soil. If a person is sentenced for a crime, after serving their prison term he or she held for up to 180 days as the U.S. government processes them for deportation.
The U.S. has negotiated deportation procedures under a memorandum of understanding framework agreement with individual countries. When a country fails to follow the MoU agreement and refuses to accept their citizens slated for deportation, they are recognized as “recalcitrant” and placed on a list of uncooperative countries. Currently, Myanmar and Laos are on the recalcitrant countries list, according to DHS.
“For many years, State and the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] have worked at all levels with countries that refuse to accept their nationals with final orders of removal,” Aryani Manring said.
“We consider all options at our disposal, taking into account complex bilateral relationships, foreign policy priorities, and other extenuating circumstances. In many cases, diplomatic efforts are successful in addressing the problem,” she added.
DHS said that due to Myanmar’s delay or refusal to issue travel documents to or accept their nationals within the specified time period, ICE may be required to release dangerous criminals into communities across the U.S.
“We believe that this step [the sanctions] is therefore required at this time with the hope that Myanmar will cooperate on removals,” Aryani Manring said.
DHS has not officially announced the number of Myanmar refugees ordered removed from the U.S. However, under President Donald Trump, more than 100,000 foreign nationals have been ordered deported. Many countries have refused to take them back, including 579 people from Myanmar, according to a DHS statement issued in November 2017.