'Declared foreigners' walk out of Assam detention camp

COVID-19 impact: 'Declared foreigners' released from Assam detention camps after court orders

The fear of coronavirus helped Bongshidhar Rajbongshi, a 63-year-old man from western Assam's Chirang district to come out of a detention camp on Wednesday, two years, and nine months after he was declared a foreigner and put behind the bars. 

"I have been requesting everyone to release us for a long time. But nothing worked. We were scared inside after hearing about coronavirus. Today I am a little relieved," said Rajbongshi, who came out of Goalpara detention camp.

Rajbongshi was declared a foreigner by a quasi-judicial Foreigner Tribunal after he failed to prove that he lived in India before March 24, 1971, the cut-off date fixed to determine citizenship in Assam. Over 800 of them like Rajbongshi are still lodged in six detention camps inside jails in Assam. 

Nearly, 200 of them, however, have been released on bail since April 16, when Gauhati High Court gave the Assam government one week's time to release those who spent two years in detention camps, in view of the fears about the possible spread of the coronavirus. 

The Supreme Court on April 13 also asked the Centre and Assam government to release them after Justice and Liberty Initiative, a human rights body in Guwahati moved the Chief Justice of India to release all the declared foreigners fearing the spread of COVID-19. "As human beings, they 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.

Sources in the border branch of Assam police said that more than 700 "declared foreigners" completed two years inside detention camps and the process was on to release all of them on bail as per the conditions put forth by the Supreme Court. A list of the persons will also be submitted to the high court and the Supreme Court. 

The conditions include capturing and storing the biometrics of the iris of both eyes and all 10 fingerprints, declaration that a detainee shall report once a week to the police station or outpost within his or her verifiable address of stay after release and an undertaking that the detainee would be liable to be caught again and tried in a tribunal if any of the other conditions are violated.