More than 240 Chinese nationals were arrested for illegally entering Myanmar through Shan state during the first half of the year, mostly to look for work, a state immigration official told RFA on Thursday.
Most of the detained illegal migrants, as well as some Lao nationals, were found in the Shan towns of Muse, Lashio, and Tachileik where they sought jobs in mining projects in border areas, said Win Lwin, director of the state’s Immigration Department.
Many illegal Chinese nationals work in the gold, jade, and metal mining industries in Myanmar as well as on banana tissue and watermelon plantations, while a growing number of them are working in the gambling industry, he said.
“Here, we live close to the border with China, Thailand, and Laos,” he said. “Chinese [workers] illegally entered the country to work in industries such as gold and metal mining.”
The 241 Chinese nationals arrested during the first six months of 2019 in townships along Myanmar’s border with China represent a huge increase over the 177 who illegally entered Myanmar in all of 2018, he said.
Those arrested during the first half of this year were charged with violating Section 13(1) of Immigration Act, a 1947 statute that carries prison terms of six months to five years, a minimum fine of 1,500 kyats (U.S. $1), or both.
Myanmar has meted out harsh sentences in the past to Chinese nationals who violated the Immigration Act.
In 2015, more than 150 Chinese nationals were arrested and given life sentences for illegal logging activities in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state.
But with the Chinese government now demanding that its own officials review sentences, Myanmar authorities change the jail terms to expulsion usually within a few days after rulings, according to immigration officials.
Lawmaker not satisfied
On Tuesday, lawmaker San Win Aung, who represents eastern Shan state’s Mong Tong township constituency, questioned the Shan state parliament about progress with taking action against gambling businesses operated by illegal Chinese nationals.
Responding to San Win Aung’s questions, Colonel Hla Oo, Shan state minister of security and border affairs, said local authorities have stepped up their efforts to crack down on the businesses.
But San Win Aung told RFA that he was not satisfied with the response.
“The minister said they have been checking for illegal entries into the country and arresting those who do enter illegally,” he said.
“After they abolished the requirement for authorities to conduct routine inspections of community residents, Chinese nationals could easily enter Myanmar illegally,” San Win Aung said. “Regardless, the authorities are supposed to undertake effective security measures.”
Thaung Tun, a member of the local relief organization the Karuna Foundation based in Muse, said that the Chinese that run gambling operations are also involved in criminal activities.
“We’ve got many concerns,” he told RFA. “They are operating many illegal business. They run illegal gaming boats. They are also involved in drug trafficking.”
“Chinese laws punish drug traffickers harshly,” he added. “By comparison, there are many loopholes here due to conflicting laws and other factors. That’s the reason they have moved their business to this side [of the border].”
Reported by Phyu Phyu Khine and Wai Yan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.