Indian state extends ban on cross-border travel from Myanmar

The government of the Indian state of Manipur has extended a ban on travel through a major border gateway for three more months to prevent “illegal entry of Myanmar nationals.”

The move, which bars Myanmar citizens from entering India through the Tamu-Moreh border gate, was announced last Friday.

In a statement, Manipur government official Peter Salam said that the suspension of the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar, first imposed on September 15, was necessary due to the current political situation in Myanmar.

Tamu is located in western Sagaing Region, which has been a stronghold of anti-regime forces since Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021.

The town is a major trading centre due to its proximity to the Indian town of Moreh. Under the FMR, citizens of the two countries are permitted to travel freely within 25km of both sides of the border.

A Tamu local who has been displaced by the ongoing conflict in Sagaing Region said that the Manipur government appeared to be trying to prevent Myanmar refugees from entering the state.

“People are saying that they issued the order to stop an uncontrolled influx of Myanmar refugees,” he said.

Travel through the Tamu-Moreh border gate has been limited since 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, leading to a fall in commercial traffic in the area.

Myanmar borders four northeastern Indian states—Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

Mizoram, which borders Chin State, has provided asylum to a large number of Myanmar refugees, including members of the government ousted by last year’s coup.

The state government issues refugee identification cards to asylum seekers, who are free to travel throughout the state and are also given medical care.

In Manipur, the state government doesn’t recognise refugees or provide aid, although local and international organisations have assisted some arrivals from Myanmar.

“Some people have illegally crossed the border due to severe fighting, but they shouldn’t be seen as ‘illegals’ under international law. They should be recognised as refugees,” said the Tamu local.

He added that there are strong ties between Tamu and Moreh, including not only trade but also travel and education, with more than 300 Myanmar students attending school in Moreh.

Last Friday, the junta’s trade minister, Aung Naing Oo, attended an anniversary ceremony of the Indian Traders Association in the Indian city of Kolkata and urged increased trade and investment between the two countries.

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