Need time limit on detentions in Assam: Amnesty

People stand in line to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Gumi village of Kamrup district in the Indian state of Assam on January 1, 2018. Around 13 million people in northeastern India's Assam woke up to u

Global rights body Amnesty and a group of activists Friday alleged that individuals declared as "irregular foreigners" were living in "deplorable conditions" in detention centres in Assam, and sought introduction of a "statutory time limit" on their confinement.

Amnesty India Friday also released a report here titled -- 'Between Fear and Hatred: Surviving Migration Detention in Assam' and urged the Assam government to ensure that an "operations manual" for detention centres is created that addresses the specific circumstances of detainees.

Asmita Basu, Amnesty India's Programs Director, said, the nearly 30-page report draws from "empirical data gathered through semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders and informants, including six individuals who had been formerly detained, and families of seven individuals who had been or are in detention".

"There is no statutory limit on the period for which individuals declared as 'irregular foreigners' can be detained. Also, such people are kept inside criminal prisons along with convicts and undertrial prisoners," Amnesty India has alleged in its report.

The circumstances and conditions of detention "cause harm" to individuals’ mental and physical health, and the foreigners tribunals, which adjudicate citizenship cases, "follow flawed processes" to identify "irregular foreigners", it alleged.

As on September 25, 2018, there are 1,037 people detained for being "irregular foreigners" in detention centres housed inside prisons in Assam, Basu said.

"There are children who grow up with their mothers inside prison. Many detainees suffer from mental and physical health issues associated with the conditions of their detention. Healthcare services are inadequate, and there are few avenues for recreation," according to the report.

Amnesty India researchers also interviewed two persons who visited detention centres as part of a mission conducted by the NHRC, two doctors who have worked in detention centres, three academicians working on the political economy of Assam and representatives of three civil society organisations in Assam who work on land rights, minority rights and corruption, Basu said.

The rights body in the report has urged the Centre to "ensure, that in any given case, migration detention is lawful, necessary, proportionate and used only as a last resort and a statutory time limit for detaining irregular foreigners be introduced".

It has also asked to "significantly reduce" the use of detention for 'irregular foreigners', ensuring that far fewer people are detained and that anyone who is detained is held for a far shorter time.

"The government of Assam should ensure that persons detained under the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, are segregated from convicts and undertrials, and housed in separate detention centres with basic amenities," the report said.

It also asked to "ensure that an operations manual for detention centres is created that addresses the specific circumstances of detainees".

"Ensure the right to the highest attainable standard of medical care to all detainees, including access to appropriate mental health care through psychiatrists, psychologists and torture and trauma counsellors," the report said.

The Amnesty India also urged the Assam government to "permit periodic audits of detention centres by independent auditors".

Social activist Harsh Mander, and a few other activists, at an interaction hosted by the rights body here after the launch of the report, also alleged that the condition of the detention camps in the state were "extremely bad" and system is such that it means practically an "infinite detention" for them.

Mander, a former bureaucrat, had earlier this year, resigned as the special monitor at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), alleging "lack of response" from the rights panel on a report submitted by him on the conditions of persons "deemed to be foreigners" in Assam detention camps.

Aman Wadud, a lawyer working on detention cases, claimed, "Families are being torn apart. Children are growing up in detention. No child should have to grow up in a prison".

He alleged that many people have been deemed to be foreigners because of "clerical errors" and said, people should be given "adequate time" to provide documents.

Kismat Ali and Ashraf Ali, whom the Amnesty India said were, "former detainees" also shared their experiences during the interaction.

"I was picked up by authorities in the middle of the night. I spent nearly two years in a detention centre. It was a painful experience," he claimed.

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Need time limit on detentions in Assam: Amnesty

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