Assam government renames detention centres as transit camps ‘to humanise them’

Political parties say it reflects softening of stand on issue of ‘illegal immigrants’.

Updated - August 19, 2021 10:07 pm IST

Published - August 19, 2021 05:02 pm IST - GUWAHATI

File photo of an under-construction detention centre at a village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam.

File photo of an under-construction detention centre at a village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam.

The “detention centres” in Assam have been renamed “transit camps” to humanise them, the Assam government said on August 19.

On last Tuesday, the Home and Political Department issued a notification saying the “nomenclature of Detention Centre is changed to Transit Camp for detention purpose”.

Assam currently has such centres within the Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur central jails. A stand-alone detention centre with a capacity to house 3,000 foreigners is under construction at Agia in Goalpara district.

“One should not read much into the cosmetic change. The government has copped criticisms for years over the detention centres, which sound like concentration camps. We are trying to make them more humane,” a senior administrative officer said, declining to be quoted.

Political parties have sniffed the softening of stand by the government on the issue of “illegal immigrants”, specifically non-Muslims, who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan up to December 31, 2014, sought to be given preferential citizenship under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

‘New softer term’

“The government is trying to give the detention centres some respectability by using the new softer term,” said Assam Jatiya Parishad president Lurinjyoti Gogoi.

Congress leader Bobbeeta Sharma said changing names was a BJP trait. “They have not made the legal ramifications of the change in nomenclature clear. One needs to know how long an inmate would be kept in transit, which means temporary stay,” she observed.

Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, an advocate of the Gauhati High Court who has handled several cases of people adjudged foreigners and thrown into the detention centres, said the ground reality did not change with a change in nomenclature.

“Where will the inmates of a transit camp come from and where will they go? Will the fate of people kept in a transit camp be different from those languishing in a detention centre,” he asked.

The inmates of the detention centres have allegedly been treated on a par with the criminals lodged in the jails they share.

181 ‘declared foreigners’

In the six detention centres, 181 “declared foreigners” are currently lodged. The Goalpara centre has 41 inmates, Kokrajhar 11, Silchar 49, Dibrugarh 13, Jorhat 22 and Tezpur 45. The 181 include 22 children and nine women lodged in three centres. Of the 22 children, 20 are aged below 14.

Officials said 273 people declared non-citizens by the Foreigners’ Tribunals were released on bail after spending three years in the centres, in keeping with an order by the Supreme Court on May 10, 2019.

Based on separate orders issued subsequently by the apex court on April 13, 2020, and the Gauhati High Court on April 15 the same year, another 481 inmates, who had spent two years in captivity, were released on bail.

Till April last, the Foreigners’ Tribunals that deal with suspected foreigners disposed of 2,98,471 cases. Altogether, 1,18,616 people were declared Indians, while 1,39,900 declared “foreigners”.

There is currently a backlog of 1,36,173 cases in the tribunals.

Data submitted in the Assam Assembly in July said 29 declared foreigners died in detention since Krishna Biswas of Goalpara district became the first to be lodged in one in December 2019.

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