A free movement regime refers to a set of policies and agreements that allow the unrestricted movement of people across borders within a specific geographical area. Read here to learn more.
The Free Movement Regime (FMR) agreement with Myanmar is under reconsideration to stop border residents from moving into each other’s country without any paperwork.
The Union government thinks that the FMR is being misused by the insurgents to flee to Myanmar after carrying out attacks on the Indian side.
It also argued that ending FMR will prevent the influx of illegal migrants from Myanmar and demolish the drug trafficking and gold smuggling networks in the region.
India-Myanmar Free Movement regime
Before the British drove the Burmese out in the 1800s, they briefly occupied a large portion of modern-day northeast India.
- The Treaty of Yandaboo, signed in 1826 by the victorious and the vanquished, established the existing border between India and Burma, which was subsequently called Myanmar.
- Without their agreement, the boundary split people of the same race and culture, dividing the Kuki-Chin-Mizo populations of Manipur and Mizoram as well as the Nagas of Nagaland and Manipur.
- The boundary divided a community or a home between the two nations in certain places.
- Ten years ago, New Delhi started focusing on strengthening diplomatic relations with the Myanmar government out of concern over growing Chinese influence in that country.
The FMR was finally implemented in 2018 as part of the Act East program of the present administration, following a nearly yearlong wait.
- The delay was brought on by the Rohingya refugee crisis, which started in August 2017.
- According to the FMR, people who reside on either side of the border can enter the other nation for up to 16 km without a visa.
- A border dweller may only enter the opposite nation for up to two weeks at a time and needs a border pass, which is good for a year.
- In addition to assisting the people of Myanmar in gaining access to improved medical and educational resources on the Indian side of the border, the FMR also included the development of localized border trade through customs posts and designated marketplaces.
The state government has already suspended the FMR in September 2022 to prevent large-scale migration of refugees from Myanmar into Manipur following the February 2021 coup d’état.
- It is of the view that the conflict in the state is continuing because the Kuki insurgents are not only settling the Chin refugees in the protected and reserved forests of Manipur but also colluding with the mercenaries from Myanmar to carry out attacks against security personnel and civilians in the state in gross violation of the FMR provisions.
While the Manipur government has been strident in its stand for the scrapping of the FMR, the Mizoram and the Nagaland governments have voiced their opposition to this move by the Union government.
- They argue that the FMR allows the tribes residing across the borders to maintain their ethnic, social, and cultural ties as well as contribute to the economic well-being of people on both sides of the border.
- Both the state governments have also opposed the proposal of fencing the entire border with Myanmar stating that the international border was a colonial construct that has separated the Mizos and as well as the Nagas from their kin in Myanmar.
Why reconsider FMR with Myanmar?
- Illegal immigration: Uncontrolled immigration of Chin people from Myanmar.
- Entry of soldiers from Myanmar: Exodus of junta soldiers seeking sanctuary in Mizoram.
- Ethnic violence and insurgency: The Meitei community attributed last year’s tensions to the perceived illegal migration of tribal Kuki-Chin communities.
- Surge in drug production in Myanmar: Linked to Myanmar’s political turmoil, has security implications for the region (report by UNODC).
Free movement regime
It is commonly associated with regional integration efforts where member states agree to facilitate the movement of individuals without imposing strict visa requirements or other barriers.
The primary goal is to promote economic, social, and cultural cooperation among participating nations. Several regions around the world have implemented free movement regimes.
Here are a few notable examples:
European Union (EU):
- Schengen Area: The Schengen Area is a zone comprising 27 European countries that have abolished passport control at their mutual borders. It allows for the free movement of people within the area without the need for passport checks.
African Union (AU):
- African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): While not exclusively focused on free movement, the AfCFTA aims to create a single market for goods and services in Africa, which may eventually lead to initiatives for easing movement across the continent.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN):
- ASEAN Economic Community (AEC): The AEC envisions a single market and production base within ASEAN, allowing for the freer movement of goods, services, investment, and skilled labor.
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS):
- Free Movement Regimes: Some post-Soviet states within the CIS have established agreements for free movement. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) allows for the free movement of labor among its member states.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM):
- CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME): The CSME aims to create a single market among CARICOM member states, facilitating the free movement of goods, services, labor, and capital.
Key Features of Free Movement Regimes
- Visa-Free Travel: Citizens of member states can travel freely within the region without the need for visas or with simplified visa procedures.
- Residence Rights: Some agreements allow citizens to live and work in any member state without additional permits.
- Removal of Border Controls: Borders within the region may be open, with the elimination of passport controls and customs checks.
- Harmonization of Policies: Member states often work towards aligning immigration, labor, and social policies to facilitate seamless movement.
- Economic Integration: Free movement regimes are often part of broader economic integration efforts, fostering cooperation in trade, investment, and other economic activities.
Challenges and Considerations
- Security Concerns: Ensuring the free movement of people while addressing security challenges, such as illegal immigration and transnational crime, requires careful management.
- Socioeconomic Disparities: Disparities in economic development among member states can lead to concerns about potential imbalances in the labor movement.
- National Sovereignty: Some nations may be hesitant to fully embrace free movement regimes due to concerns about preserving national sovereignty and identity.
- Public Perception: Public sentiment and political considerations can influence the success and sustainability of free movement agreements.
Free movement regimes represent a significant step toward regional integration, fostering closer ties among nations and contributing to economic and social development. However, the success of such regimes depends on effective coordination, shared objectives, and the ability to address associated challenges.
- India-Myanmar Relations
- Security Challenges and their management in border areas
- Kaladan multimodal transit project
- Refugee crisis in India
-Article by Swathi Satish