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What are detention centres for foreigners?

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 11, Feb 2022
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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently informed the Rajya Sabha that it does not maintain a centralised data on the total number of detention centres in the country, as powers have been delegated to the State governments “to make necessary arrangements for detention centres/camps as per their requirement.”

What are detention centres?

They are places designated to keep illegal migrants (people who have entered a country without necessary documents) once they are detected by the authorities till the time their nationality is confirmed and they are deported to the country of their origin.

  • Detention centres were set up in Assam after the Union government authorized the state to do so under the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 and the Foreigners Order, 1948.

Foreigners Act, 1946:

It replaced the Foreigners Act, 1940 conferring wide powers to deal with all foreigners.

The act empowered the government to take such steps as are necessary to prevent illegal migrants including the use of force.

The concept of ‘burden of proof’ lies with the person, and not with the authorities.

  • The act originally empowered the government to establish tribunals which would have powers similar to those of a civil court.
  • Amendments (2019) to the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 empowered even district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.

Who is a declared foreigner?

A declared foreigner, or DF, is a person marked by Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) for allegedly failing to prove their citizenship after the State police’s Border wing marks him or her as an illegal immigrant.

  • People adjudged non-citizens are sent to detention centres.
  • Such people are tried after the Assam police’s Border wing serve them notice on suspicion of being foreigners.

What is a Foreigners tribunal?

Foreigners’ Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies established as per the Foreigners’ Tribunal Order, 1964 and the Foreigners’ Act, 1946.

Composition: Advocates not below the age of 35 years of age with at least 7 years of practice (or) Retired Judicial Officers from the Assam Judicial Service (or) Retired IAS of ACS Officers (not below the rank of Secretary/Addl. Secretary) having experience in quasi-judicial works.

Who can setup these tribunals?

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, and has empowered district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals (quasi-judicial bodies) to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.

  • Earlier, the powers to constitute tribunals were vested only with the Centre.

Who can approach?

The amended order (Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 2019) also empowers individuals to approach the Tribunals.

  • Earlier, only the State administration could move the Tribunal against a suspect.