The Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar, which was implemented in 2018, allowed residents within 16 kilometers of the border to travel freely into each other’s territory without the need for visas. This initiative aimed to foster ties between border communities separated by the colonial boundary established in 1826. However, India has now decided to revoke this regime due to mounting concerns regarding national security breaches and demographic changes in the region. The Ministry of Home Affairs cited issues such as unlawful infiltration, unregulated migration, and potential disruptions to the demographic structure as reasons for discontinuing the FMR. Specifically, data from recent years indicated a significant number of undocumented immigrants and illegal crossings from Myanmar, prompting the need to uphold territorial integrity by curbing unauthorized entry.
The decision to scrap the FMR was primarily driven by the need to safeguard national security and prevent adverse demographic shifts. Following the 2021 coup in Myanmar, targeted violence against certain ethnic groups led to an increase in migration into Indian border states, particularly Manipur and Mizoram. Reports revealed a surge in illegal entrants, with thousands detected and deported by authorities. Additionally, the porous nature of the border has facilitated cross-border trafficking of arms, narcotics, and other contraband, posing further security challenges. The suspension of the FMR aims to address these issues and crack down on smuggling syndicates that exploit the lax oversight of the regime.
The revocation of the FMR may disrupt legitimate cross-border commerce and exchange relied upon by border communities, potentially impacting the area’s economy and cultural ties. Indigenous communities with ancestral connections across the border stand to lose important avenues for interaction and kinship. Moreover, the cancellation of the FMR could hinder access to essential services such as healthcare and education for border villages. Some experts advocate for improved regulation rather than complete termination of the regime, suggesting technological solutions and enhanced border patrols to address security concerns while maintaining cross-border cooperation.
The India-Myanmar border, established by British colonial authorities in 1826 without consulting local ethnic tribes, has long been a source of tension and conflict. The region has seen extensive cross-border trafficking of illicit goods, facilitated by the porous nature of the border. Monitoring the border presents significant challenges due to its terrain and limited fencing, allowing smuggling activities to flourish.