6 Punjabi detainees hospitalised after hunger strike

Updated - May 21, 2016 11:53 am IST

Published - April 18, 2014 01:52 am IST - Washington

Six among 37 men of Indian origin held at an El Paso, Texas detention centre were said to have been hospitalised after one week of a hunger strike in protest of their treatment by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

The North American Punjabi Association, NAPA, a non-profit group that has been attempting to provide the detainees with legal and other support, said in a statement that although most of the remaining hunger strikers had ended their protest on Monday April 14, one among them, Harmandeep Singh, was “admitted in the hospital out side the jail for treatment,” and five detainees including Paritpal Singh Koharh, Boota Singh, and Mandeep Grewal had been “admitted in the hospital inside the prison”.

NAPA Executive Director Satnam Singh Chahal added that the authorities in the ICE Processing Centre had transferred five detainees to a barrack called “LO-AHA,” which was said to be “a room 5 x 10 feet consisting of toilet and bed where normally criminal-type prisoners are detained”.”

NAPA was also said to have joined hands with a prominent Sikh welfare group, the Sikh Coalition, to get parole for all the detainees.

Earlier, a spokesperson for the centre, Leticia Zamarripa, told The Hindu that although she was able to confirm that 37 men were on hunger strike, she was not able to provide any further details on their detention, including on how long they had been protesting in this manner, what measures ICE had taken in this regard, how long they had been detained there, how many of them were there, whether they had been formally charged and what legal remedies they could hope for.

However Ms. Zamarripa did say via email, “ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference. While we continue to work with Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform, ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities, including convicted criminals and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S.”

On Thursday, Ms. Zamarripa said that she would provide further updates on the status of the detainees although that had not yet happened at the time this report went to press.

Last week Mr. Chahal had expressed concern at the “miserable plight” of these “young men who are languishing in U.S. jails charged with illegal entry without valid entry visas”.

He had explained then that the men began their journey from India in July 2013 from India and reached Mexico via a circuitous global route involving Moscow, Havana, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

When they reached an unknown city of Mexico, he said, the entire group was held in a single room and not permitted to go outside the room.

At some point prior to November 11, 2013, when they found themselves in the U.S. detention facility, they either attempted a border crossing into the U.S. or were transported across.

NAPA said that it was highlighting the problem of “human trafficking” as a criminal act that had victimised Punjabis, adding, “Punjabis’ enthusiasm to migrate to affluent countries in search of greener pastures has given the traffickers to exploit them. Using different modus operandi, people of different back grounds involved in human trafficking and often put the lives of their clients in considerable danger.”

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