The newly built Matia Transit Camp at Goalpara in Assam received its first batch of 68 foreigners on 27th January.
A detention center, which is now officially named a “transit camp,” is situated 150 km from Guwahati. It is the first-ever transit camp to be built in the state under the guidelines of the central government.
State’s First ever Transit Centre
This is the first center to house illegal foreigners, as until now all the detainees have been housed inside detention centers, that is, the jails. The people who have been moved to transit camps are those declared as foreigners by Foreigner Tribunals in Assam or those convicted by judicial courts for violating visa provisions.
As per Barnali Sharma, Inspector General of Prisons, Assam, the first 68 detainees comprises of 45 men, 21 women, and two children. All of them have been detected as foreign nationals.
Six detention centres
There are currently six detention centres in existence, where two are in the district jails of Kokrajhar and Goalpara, and the other four are in the central jails of Tezpur, Silchar, Dibrugarh and Jorhat.
As per the state government’s data, by September 2022, the six centres together would have held 195 detainees. In a bid to humanise detention centres, the Assam government changed the name to ‘Transit Camp for detention purpose’ in 2021.
The Matia Transit Camp
The Matia Transit Camp, the name of the first state transit camp, is nestled between farmlands and forests. It occupies 12.5 acres of land and was constructed with a budget of over ₹ 46 crores. It has the capacity to keep up to 3,000 illegal foreigners at a time.
All the infrastructure and whatever facilities are needed have been prepared, with the minimum basic staff in place. The decision to transfer the detainees came after an order by the Gauhati High Court in November last year. The court ordered the government to make the Matia camp operational. The order was in response to a batch of habeas corpus petitions filed to challenge the detention of foreigners in jail. It also sought the release of the detainees.
Hearing in Gauhati HC
The Assam government has often come under scrutiny for its poor treatment and poor living conditions for detainees.
Since last year, the Guahati High Court has been constantly urging the government to shift people to Matia. Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court R M Chhaya (now retired) and Justice Soumitra Saikia saw that the transit camp was ready and hence ordered the government to rehabilitate them and make temporary arrangements for medical and security staff on November 17.
On November 29, Justice Chhaya ordered that all the detainees be shifted before December 15, 2022. The state government, in response, said that the government had taken a conscious decision to make the camp operational, but it needed more time to deploy security personnel. The next date for hearing is February 28.
Criticism against Government
An official, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that the delay in shifting the detainees was because they have yet to hire staff, though the building is ready. The Matia camp has a school and medical facilities. The creation of facilities took a lot of time.
Activists in Assam have criticised the government’s move, stating that most of the detainees are only declared foreigners and not convicted foreigners. And these declared foreigners can still appeal to higher courts to prove their Indian citizenship and possibly get their names cleared. According to activists, shifting the declared foreigners to Matia centre would amount to their indefinite incarceration.
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