Key land border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand reopens after 3 years — H Talk Asia

Myanmar and Thailand have reopened a key border crossing after a three-year hiatus.

The Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge, which connects Thailand’s western Tak Province to Myawaddy Municipality in eastern Myanmar’s Kayin State, reopened on Thursday for the first time since 2020 when the two countries closed their borders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several Thai and Myanmar officials met for a reopening ceremony on the bridge at 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Traffic across the bridge officially reopened at 8:30 a.m., according to the Myanmar National Portal website.

A local resident who attended the event told RFA’s Burmese service that hundreds of people from both sides came to watch.

Nay Win, who became the first person to cross the bridge into Thailand on Thursday, said he received a seven-day border pass to stay in the country after submitting his COVID-19 vaccination card and 3,000 kyat ($1.43). have.

“I’m happy [to be back],” he said.

On Thursday, January 12, 2023, a reopening ceremony was held for the No.1 Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge, which connects Myawaddy in Kayin State and Mae Sot in Tak Province, Thailand. Photo credit: Kitimasak Aek Seeduan via Facebook

The reopening of the land border should benefit the economy of both countries.

“What is important is that trade, education and healthcare improve,” said Thin Thin Myat, president of the Thailand-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce.

She said there will be health centers to check for COVID at the entrance and exit of the two countries. Those who can provide the correct documents are allowed to visit the other side for seven days.

The reopening is good for the people of Myanmar, according to Htoo Chit, a Myanmar labor rights lawyer in Thailand.

“During the shutdown, the migrants and visitors had to pay more than 10 times the regular fee to get into Thailand,” Htoo Chit said. “Some had to enter illegally and were arrested, imprisoned or deported. Now they can come legally and officially.”

According to Thai immigration statistics, a total of 786 border crossings took place on the first day of reopening, with 40 Thais and 300 Burmese exiting Thailand via the bridge and 35 Thais and 411 Burmese entering Thailand.

Since the military coup in Myanmar, the Thai-Myanmar border town of Myawaddy has been bombed frequently. On the night of October 15, 2022, a bomb exploded near the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Bridge and at least two cars were destroyed by fire.

Key land border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand reopens after 3 years — H Talk AsiaNay Win shows his passport stamp after becoming the first to cross the No.1 Myanmar-Thai Friendship Bridge in three years. Credit: RFA

The long-awaited reopening was originally announced for May 1, 2022, but was repeatedly postponed.

Before the bridge reopened, some workers and goods were able to cross a second Thai-Myanmar bridge about 8 kilometers (5 miles) north as part of an agreement aimed at boosting the Thai job market with workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

But advocacy groups said high fees from brokers for organizing the paperwork for the process meant it was an inadequate opportunity for the masses looking for a steady income in the declining economy.

Anyone who couldn’t wait for the reopening had to cross the 2,400-kilometer border irregularly, often with the help of brokers.

Moe Kyaw of the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs says creating more legal migration pathways can help reduce risk and fewer people are exposed to abuse.

Of the four permanent land borders, the only other open checkpoint is further south in Kawthaung, Myanmar. However, only locals with a passport and access to a boat can legally enter Thailand.

Myanmar citizens living in Mae Sot see the reopening of the border not as an economic boon but as a chance to reconnect with loved ones from whom they have been separated.

Samuel, who came to the opening ceremony on the Thai side and asked to use only his first name, has been watching preparations for the opening all week. Although he expects to stay in Thailand because of the coup, he can at least visit his home country now.

“It will bring more comfort to the Burmese,” Samuel said. “I’m trying to go to Myawaddy just to meet my boyfriend.”

Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.