The Department of Home Affairs has launched investigations into relatives of Myanmar’s military government living in Australia, amid concerns they are either harbouring assets or receiving financial support in the wake of the military coup.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal there are at least 22 relatives of senior members of Myanmar’s new government living in Australia.
The Australian government will also announce on Wednesday it will extend the visas of Myanmar nationals so that they aren’t forced to return to the country in the wake of the coup.
Human rights advocates and Burmese Australians are calling on the Australian government to sanction members of the country’s armed forces – known as the Tatmadaw – after it staged a coup against the democratically elected government, including its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on February 1. They also want the government to cancel the visas of family members living in Australia who are being financially supported.
Home Affairs has started looking into some Myanmar nationals living in Australia, including the son of a senior member of the military government. The Australian government will assess whether to cancel, or not renew, the visas of the individuals, according to multiple sources who were not authorised to speak publicly.
A list prepared by a group of pro-democracy activists in Australia, which has been handed to the Morrison government, includes the names of 15 relatives of senior members of Myanmar’s military government who they believe may be benefiting financially from their family back home.
Nang Si Si Win - Ying, a Burmese Australian doctor who helped to prepare the list, said Australia needed targeted sanctions against members of Myanmar’s military government. She said assets in Australia would likely not be in the name of Myanmar military members or their family, so it required a detailed investigation.
“We need to get those who are here, sanction them, at least then they will know their grandchildren or children are affected and it will make them think twice,” she said.
“The families of junta members are here in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and most of them are in Singapore where sanctions are not there and finances are flowing freely.
“The assets might not be directly under their name, they might be under the name of a third party – so we need to make sure those assets are frozen and they can not mobilise their arms. They should be deported and the visas should be ceased.”
Australia has sanctioned five officers in the Tatmadaw who are accused of overseeing violence against Rohingya Muslims, but this pre-dated the military coup.
The Morrison government is working on legislating Magnitsky-style laws that would make it easier to sanction human rights offenders from entering the country and to seize their assets. The law would be modelled on a US Act, which was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who in 2008 uncovered a deep web of tax fraud linked to the Kremlin and later died in mysterious circumstances in a Moscow prison.
A parliamentary inquiry is currently scrutinising Australia’s response to the military coup, including whether more sanctions should be imposed on members of the Tatmadaw.
Labor MP Julian Hill said, deputy chair of the committee, said Australia should not be giving “comfort, shelter or protection to people who have committed serious human rights abuses, or their families”.
“Suspected links between the Myanmar junta and Australia must be investigated. As should links with Cambodia’s Hun Sen regime, which have been ignored for too long,” he said.
“The Liberal government’s ongoing failure to introduce targeted sanctions in response to the coup underscores the urgent need for new Magnitsky laws.”
A spokesperson for Home Affairs said it does not comment on individual cases, but added: “Australia carefully takes into consideration international developments such as those in Myanmar when making operational decisions”.
Under the policy to be announced on Tuesday, Myanmar nationals currently in Australia on temporary visas may apply to extend their stay “until it is safe to return home”.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the move would support Myanmar nationals in Australia who are affected by the ongoing unrest, adding it was “consistent with Australia’s international obligations”.
“Australia continues to strongly urge the Myanmar security forces to exercise restraint and refrain from violence against civilians, release those detained arbitrarily and engage in dialogue,” he said.
What in the World
A note direct from our foreign correspondents about what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for our weekly newsletter here.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Nick McKenzie is an Age investigative journalist who has twice been named the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year. A winner of 10 Walkley Awards, he investigates politics, business, foreign affairs, human rights and criminal justice.