Assam: Detention centres for ‘foreigners’ to be now called ‘transit camps’ | Guwahati City News

by Guwahati_City

In a significant change in nomenclature, the Assam government has said that detention centres, which house “foreigners” in Assam, will now be called “transit camps”.

A notification, signed by Niraj Verma, the principal secretary of Assam’s home and political department, on August 17, stated that “the nomenclature of detention centre is changed to ‘Transit Camp’ for detention purpose” in partial modification of an earlier notification dated 17.06.2009.

The Indian Express reached out to Verma for comments but he did not respond.

In Assam, which has seen waves of migration from East Bengal (later East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) over the decades, there are six detention centres for holding “convicted foreigners” and “declared foreigners” inside district jails in Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar. These were notified temporarily by the state government in 2009.

A new detention centre — solely for the purpose of detaining “illegal foreigners” — is under construction at Matia in Goalpara district, around 150 km from Guwahati.

In July, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told the state Assembly that the six centres have 181 detainees. Out of the 181, 61 are “declared foreigners” and 120 are “convicted foreigners”. The latter means a foreign national who entered India “illegally” and is convicted by a judicial court while a “declared foreigner” is one who was once considered an Indian citizen per se but then declared to be a foreigner by a Foreigners’ Tribunal—quasi-judicial bodies that adjudicate citizenship—in Assam.

The number of people housed in these detention centres considerably reduced following the Supreme Court’s May 10, 2019, order which stated that declared foreigners could be released after three years in detention, subject to certain conditions. In April 2020, another order reduced the detention period to two years. About 750 people were released following these two orders.

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Human rights activists and civil society groups have frequently highlighted the “inhuman conditions” at these detention centres where inmates share space with those accused in or convicted of all kinds of crime, including murder.

Following a batch of petitions filed by a team of lawyers and activists, the Gauhati High Court, in October 2020, has asked the Assam government to submit an action taken report on steps taken to set up detention centres outside jail premises.

The High Court had said that “detention centres must be outside the jails”, the state government has to “ensure that the places where they are being kept must have basic facilities of electricity, water and hygiene etc, and that there is appropriate security at these places”.

Data shows that 29 inmates have so far died due to various causes at these detention centres. In the Assembly, Sarma had said that 1,36,173 cases are pending in the Foreigners’ Tribunals, while 2,98,471 cases have been disposed of so far. He added that the state government has so far repatriated 321 foreigners in all. According to a reply by the Union Home Ministry in the Lok Sabha on December 10, 2019, only four “declared foreigners” have been deported to Bangladesh to date.

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