The Assam government has changed the nomenclature of the state’s six detention centres for foreigners to transit camps, which at present house 181 inmates, 61 of whom are declared foreign nationals and 120 are convicted foreign nationals awaiting deportation, officials said.
An official of the state’s Home and Political Department said that the 12-year-old notification was modified to rename the six detention centres as transit camps for detention purposes.
According to a notification issued by Niraj Verma, Principal Secretary in the Home and Political Department, “The nomenclature of detention centre is changed to ‘transit camp’ for detention purpose”, in partial modification of a June 2009 notification.
While the official refused to divulge the reason for renaming the detention centres, political observers felt that it was done to harmonise the purpose and play down the negative psychological effect associated with the detention centres.
The detention cetres, or transit camps as they will be called now, are located within the central jails of Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur.
The first standalone detention centre to house 3,500 foreigners is under construction at a cost of Rs 46 crore at Agia in western Assam’s Goalpara district adjoining Meghalaya.
Three of these centres — Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur — house 22 children along with their nine mothers. Of the 22 children, two are above 14 while 20 are below 14 years of age.
According to the official statistics, 2,551 people have been sent to the detention centres between December 23, 2009, and June 30, 2021, after they were declared non-Indian citizens by various Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs).
The first inmate in the detention camp was Krishna Biswas of Goalpara district.
So far, 29 declared ‘foreigners’ died in these centres while many have been granted bail since 2009.
According to the officials, 2,98,471 cases have been disposed of by the FTs, whereas 1,36,173 cases were pending in these tribunals till April 30.
In all, 1,18,216 people were declared as Indian citizens while 1,39,900 people were declared as foreigners by the FTs till April 30.
According to a Supreme Court order dated May 10, 2019, 273 declared foreigners were released following their appeal after three years in detention, while 481 others were released after another apex court order in April last year reduced their detention period to two years in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Border Wing of Assam police is tasked with detecting such foreigners or ‘illegal immigrants’.
The people they suspect to be non-citizens are served notices to appear before any of the 100 FTs and submit the relevant documents to establish their Indian citizenship, failing which they are sent to the detention centres or are deported.