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The Free Movement Regime and India-Myanmar Border Dynamics

Published: 27th Jan, 2024

Context

The recent announcement by Home Minister to fence the India-Myanmar border and reconsider the Free Movement Regime (FMR) has sparked debates.

Background

  • The roots of the India-Myanmar border complexities trace back to the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, dividing people of the same ethnicity and culture without their consent.
  • The FMR, introduced in 2018 as part of the Act East policy, aimed to improve diplomatic ties and facilitate movement for border residents.
  • However, recent events and security considerations prompt a reassessment.

What is the FMR?

  • The FMR permits people on either side of the India-Myanmar border to travel up to 16 km without a visa, fostering cultural ties and facilitating local trade.
  • It also aimed at providing better access to education and healthcare facilities.
  • However, the ease of movement also raised concerns about trafficking and security issues.

Why is the FMR Under Scrutiny?

  • The primary trigger for reconsidering the FMR was the conflict in Manipur in 2023.
  • The Manipur government expressed worry about the "influx" of Myanmar nationals and linked it to ethnic violence.
  • The suspension of the FMR during the COVID-19 lockdown, extended after the Myanmar military coup, further intensified the debate.

Scale of Migration:

  • The civil war in Myanmar led to a surge in refugees seeking shelter in India, particularly in Manipur and Mizoram.
  • Manipur pushed back thousands, expressing concern over the number of Myanmar nationals. Meanwhile, Mizoram accommodated refugees due to shared ethnic ties, seeking funds from the Centre to support them until normalcy returns in Myanmar.

Opposition from Mizoram and Nagaland:

  • Mizoram Chief Minister opposes fencing the border and ending the FMR, emphasizing ethnic ties with the Chin people across the border.

Similarly, Nagaland, particularly through the Naga Students’ Federation, condemns these moves, considering them regressive and exacerbating regional conflicts.

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