Free Movement Regime – Manipur Border Issue

Context: A mob set on fire at least 30 houses and shops and engaged in a shootout with security forces in Manipur’s Moreh district.

Free Border Regime on India-Myanmar Border (IMB)

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Free movement Regime 

Free Movement Regime (FMR) allows residents of India and Myanmar border to go up to 16 kilometers into the other side and stay there up to 14 days without visas.

Need of FMR 

  • It was implemented in 2018 as a part of Indian government’s Act East policy.
  • People in the region have strong ethnic and familial ties across the border. 
    • In the Moreh region of Manipur, there are villages where some homes are in Myanmar. 
    • In Nagaland’s Mon district, the border passes through the house of the chief of Longwa village, splitting his very home into two.
  • People on both sides of the border have cultural ties FMR gives them a needed space for cultural exchanges.
  • The livelihood and sustenance of people in this region depends upon their regular exchange and FMR gives an impetus to local trade and business.
    • The region has a long history of trans-border trade through customs and border haats.
  • The border peoples have access to business, education, and healthcare through these exchanges which are allowed by FMR. 

Associated issues with FMR

  • Problem of illegal migrants:
    • Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017 led to people fleeing from Myanmar.
    • The ruling junta in Myanmar has launched a campaign of persecution against the Kuki-Chin peoples.
    • Illegally settling of migrants from Myanmar in new villages in the hills, leading to deforestation.
  • Cause of Insurgency: It promotes insurgency across and inside the border.
  • Trafficking: It is leading to illicit and informal trade drug trafficking, importing arms and weapons originating from China to the Indian side.
    • Drug lords or drug mafias instigate the locals who wish to earn easy money and thereafter use them to carry out illegal activities across the borders.
  • Difficulty of Monitoring: The border is almost entirely unfenced, runs through forested and undulating terrain.

Status of FMR

As the crisis in Myanmar escalated and the influx of refugees increased, India suspended the FMR in September 2022.

Way forward 

  • Rather than removing it completely FMR should be better regulated. 
  • India and Myanmar should execute a crystal-clear plan regarding the FMR which incorporate aspiration of the people into India’s Myanmar strategy. 
  • An accommodative and participatory approach that includes tribes of the region like Meities and locals in Moreh etc. and governments of both sides should be adopted to come up with a solution.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, thereby, India is under no international legal obligation to provide legal status, proper livelihood, education, or healthcare to any illegal migrant. 

Indian Myanmar Border (IMB)

  • The border between India and Myanmar runs for 1,643 km in the four states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • IMB is not just a porous or an unfenced boundary, rather, it reflects physical, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and fraternal linkages among the transborder villages.
  • Managing and administering the border areas effectively is pertinent for reducing drug trafficking and illegal cross-border movement via unfenced borders.
  • Assam Rifles (AR) have been deployed along this border to monitor and check infiltration across the border.

History of IMB

  • The border between India and Myanmar was demarcated by the British in 1826, without seeking the opinion of the people living in the region. 
  • The border effectively split people of the same ethnicity and culture into two nations without their consent. The current IMB reflects the line drawn by the British.

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