India builds detention centres for ‘illegal immigrants’ in Assam

New centres to house 30,000 . . . 

Following the August 31 publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list in India’s state of Assam that excluded 1.9 million people who did not meet the criteria for citizenship, the Indian Government is back in the news for building mass detention centres. People who have been excluded from the NRC list have 120 days to provide legacy documentation such as birth certificates, land ownership, or electoral rolls that directly connect them or their ancestors to India prior to 1971. People who fail to prove citizenship will be decreed stateless and detained in one of the 10 detention centres being constructed across Assam, with the first of 10 being built in Goalpara district. Each detention centre is capable of housing 3,000 people and will be equipped with hospitals, primary schools, and washrooms.

Who does the NRC affect?

The National Register of Citizens, which was initiated in 1951 and not updated since, has resurfaced after six decades due to a 2013 Supreme Court of India ruling that required the NRC list in Assam to be updated. The state of Assam has been riddled with issues circling around undocumented immigration. Following the Bangladesh War of 1971, the influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from the other side of the border led to agitation and concern over the inclusion of “illegal immigrants” in subsequent electoral rolls and their influence over the indigenous culture. The 1985 Assam Accord signed between the central government and the nationalistic All Assam Students’ Union led to a rule particular to Assam in which people who entered the state on or after the eve of the Bangladesh War were to be declared foreigners and deported – but that never happened, as the NRC was not updated.

Internal or international . . .

The Indian Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, describes the NRC as India’s “internal matter.” As detailed in a previous APF Canada commentary, a significant number of people moving to Assam from Bangladesh can be categorized as ‘climate migrants,’ a subject further explored in studies by the University of Ottawa and Wilfrid Laurier University on Bangladeshi migrants in Canada. With the United Nations General Assembly set to open tomorrow, questions remain as to how, or if, the international community will respond to the situation in Assam. These questions are particularly important considering the Indian government has not specifically revealed what will become of these ‘stateless’ people.