The Assam government has got the go-ahead from the Centre to build a new detention facility for holding people who were unable to prove their citizenship at the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) in the state, officials said. The six existing camps — in jails at Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar — hold 1,000-odd ‘declared foreigners’. Overall, the FTs in Assam have declared over 85,000 people as ‘foreigners’.
The new centre, with a capacity to hold 3,000 people, is seen as an effort to reduce overcrowding and related problems in the existing camps. It is planned in Matia area of Goalpara district at an estimated cost of Rs 47 crore. District administration officials in Goalpara said that 20 bighas of land was sanctioned last year for the purpose.
L S Changsan, Principal Secretary, Home and Political Department, told The Indian Express, “There are temporary detention camps in Assam which are in jails and they are getting congested. This new centre will be a way of solving that problem.”
Once the new facility is functional, the government will consider shifting the ‘declared foreigners’ lodged in the six existing facilities to the new centre, Changsan said.
In June, social activist Harsh Mander resigned as the Special Monitor for Minorities at the National Human Rights Commission, saying that no action was taken — despite several reminders — after he submitted his report on the “conditions of persons deemed to be foreigners in Assam detention camps” that the body had asked him to prepare. Mander, who visited two detention centres in Goalpara and Kokrajhar earlier this year, said the conditions in the camps were contrary to the humanitarian principal as well as the Constitution and international laws.
“The situation [of the ‘declared foreigners’] is even worse than regular prisoners. We saw they did not even have facilities that regular prisoners have… Families [if multiple members are declared ‘foreigners’] are also separated,” Mander said.
Abdul Kalam Azad, an independent researcher, said, “News of the new centre is worrying because it leads to the question whether the government is planning to send more people to detention centres.”
Changsan clarified that the development of the new detention centre was not related to the NRC publication.