Coronavirus outbreak | Forum seeks release of ‘declared foreigners’ from Assam detention centres

Humanitarian consideration for Foreigners’ Tribunal detenus sought in view of COVID-19 pandemic

Published - March 25, 2020 06:36 pm IST - GUWAHATI

A forum for justice has written to the Supreme Court seeking the release of “declared foreigners” from six detention centres of Assam on humanitarian grounds in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

In its appeal on Wednesday, the Justice and Liberty Initiative (JLI) lauded the apex court for its effort to ensure the release of prisoners on parole and those awaiting trail for offences entailing maximum sentence of seven years so that the jails do not become breeding grounds for COVID-19.

This step should be extended to the declared foreigners, who on account of poor documentation or poor legal assistance and lack of resources, have not been able to prove they are Indian citizens , the forum of leading lawyers and academics said.

802 declared foreigners

According to a statement by Minister of State for Home, Nityananda Rai in the Rajya Sabha on March 11, there are a total of 802 declared foreigners in detention centres at Goalpara, Tezpur, Jorhat, Silchar and Dibrugarh.

The existing 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals declare such people foreigners after their cases are referred by the Assam Police’s Border wing, which is tasked with detecting “suspected non-citizens” or “Bangladeshis”. Some are either too poor to pursue their cases in higher courts or have their appeals turned down.

“As human beings, they [declared foreigners facing perpetual detention] also have at least the basic human right to live and not to die of COVID-19 in the precincts of a prison, which has despicable living conditions,” said advocate Aman Wadud on behalf of JLI.

The forum pointed to government records saying 29 declared foreigners have died in detention due to various ailments since 2016, with ten of them having died between March 1, 2019 and February 20 this year.

Conditional release

It also referred to the Supreme Court’s order on May 10, 2019, for conditional release of such people who have served more than three years in detention.

The conditions include execution of bond with two sureties of ₹1 lakh each, capturing of biometrics of the released person and storing it in a secured database, and quarterly report by the Border Police to the Foreigners’ Tribunal regarding appearance of the released person at the police station concerned.

The JLI requested the apex court to apply these conditions, except for the three-year detention clause, for releasing the declared foreigners.

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