A Foreigner Detention Centre (FDC) is all set to become functional from January 1, 2020, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, in a building that was meant to be a student hostel. While this is being linked by many to the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), top Home Ministry officials have said that the facility will only be a ‘transit home’ for foreign nationals illegally in the country ahead of their deportation.
“The FDC coming up in the State is nationality-neutral and will act as a temporary detention home for foreign nationals illegally staying here and detained by police, till they are deported. The process to set up the facility began in 2009 following directions from the Union Government. There have also been directions from Karnataka High Court regarding this,” said T.M. Vijay Bhaskar, Chief Secretary, Karnataka.
The topic of detention centres, and their possible connection with an NRC, has attracted multiple comments from top Central and State officials. While on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flatly denied the news on the existence of any detention centre anywhere in the country, a few days later, Home Minister Amit Shah confirmed the existence of one such facility in Assam but said it had not yet become functional and had no connection with the Assam NRC. In Karnataka, while top officials and functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government said the facility is not connected to an NRC, no one was willing to speak on record for fear of attracting controversy.
Two categories of inmates
The Karnataka FDC is likely to host two categories of migrants: one, foreign nationals who have registered with Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and have violated visa terms; and, two, those who do not have valid documents, are not registered with the FRRO and have been arrested for crimes. These migrants would be detained at the centre till their deportation. In its current capacity, the FDC can host 24 persons, “not matched for a detention Centre required if NRC is implemented,” an official pointed out.
The Centre has the power to deport foreign nationals staying illegally in the country under Section 3(2)(c) of The Foreigners Act, 1946. State governments have also been entrusted under Article 258(1) of the Constitution to take similar steps. Arrested illegal immigrants being granted bail by the courts often become untraceable, making the state contemplate the need for detention centres. In line with this, the Union government issued directions to all States and Union Territories to build FDCs in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2018. Delhi has three such detention centres, and Bengaluru began the process of setting up such one in 2009. But this was mired in differences on who should run the centre. This was resolved in 2017, following a High Court directive.
Later, the Karnataka High Court, while hearing a bail petition of two Bangladeshi nationals in November 2019, pulled up the State government over the non-provision of FDC facility. On the court’s directions, the State police submitted an affidavit listing around 35 facilities in the State that could act as temporary detention centres. “This has only added to the confusion, creating a perception that the State wants to build a detention centre in every district, again being linked to NRC. But these are only temporary, a sort of contingency plan till the FDC becomes operational as directed by the High Court. They will cease to be so on January 1, 2020. Not a single foreigner has been lodged in any of the 35 centres,” said a senior police official. While there is no data on illegal immigrants in the state, FRRO data says 837 foreigners from 20 countries registered with them are overstaying their visa tenures in the State. Most of them are African nationals and less than 200 of them are from Bangladesh.