Over 800 "declared foreigners" lodged in Assam's six detention camps should be immediately released to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Amnesty International India said on Monday.
"Assam government has released over 700 prisoners in view of the coronavirus fears. However, there is a concern that those detained in the detention centres will not be among those benefiting from the measure. Even though in 2019, the Supreme Court of India had ordered for the release of detainees who had been in detention centres for more than three years, many continue to remain detained without access to bail or parole.
Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal must ensure that those declared foreigners and detained across the six detention centres of Assam are also released immediately," Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India said in a statement.
Citing its report released in 2019 that highlighted the "appalling living condition" of the declared foreigners, the rights body said, "As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across India, the Assam government must recognise that the detainees in overcrowded detention centres face a heightened risk of infection and must do everything to protect them starting with their immediate release.”
There are more than 800 "declared foreigners" lodged in six detention camps inside jails across Assam at present.
"With an occupancy rate of 117% and inadequate healthcare services as documented by Amnesty International India, overcrowded Indian prisons constitute a perfect hotspot for the spread of coronavirus," it said.
It also cited a recent move by the Supreme Court in which it asked all state governments and union territories to take steps to decongest the country’s prison system by setting up high-powered committees which would consider granting parole to those convicted or charged with offenses carrying jail terms of up to seven years.
Assam home department officials, however, said their release could instead push them into the threat of Coronavirus infection. "They are safe inside. We have prohibited visitors to meet the jail inmates for the time being except in case of real emergency. The separate staying area has also been arranged inside the jails for the new inmates to prevent contraction inside," an official said.