back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

10 April 2020 – India

Goalpara Detention Centre is one of Assam's six detention centres, and currently confines nearly 370 people declared as
Goalpara Detention Centre is one of Assam's six detention centres, and currently confines nearly 370 people declared as "illegal immigrants," Al Jazeera (

In the Indian state of Assam, more than 800 persons are being held indefinitely in six detention centres within prisons. Defined by Indian authorities as “foreigners,” these detainees – many of whom are Indian citizens who have been declared “illegal immigrants” by the Foreigners Tribunal on account of poor documentation or poor legal assistance and lack of resources – are forced to live in overcrowded facilities that lack appropriate medical and sanitary facilities. Since 2016, 29 detainees have died due to various ailments – ten of them between 1 March 2019 and 20 February 2020.

On 23 March, India’s Supreme Court ordered all states to release “convicts and undertrials [remand prisoners] awaiting trial for offences entailing a maximum sentence of seven years.” While Assam state took steps to release over 700 prisoners, no such steps seem to have been taken to release or protect detained “declared foreigners”. Speaking to Al Jazeera, the deputy commissioner of Assam’s Sonitpur district stated, “We have stopped taking in new inmates. Everyone is being screened by the doctors on a regular basis and there does not seem to be any such possibility of a virus outbreak.” However, reports from detainees’ families suggest otherwise: according to the daughter of one detainee, at least 50 people are kept in one room.

Some families have sought to secure bail for detainees, but with courts suspending operations in March, there is uncertainty regarding options. On 7 April, the country’s Supreme Court heard a petition filed by a detainee in Assam, which sought the release of people who have spent more than two years in detention. The court also heard pleas by the Justice and Liberty Initiative (JLI), which urged authorities to extend the prisoner release to declared foreigners. Further hearings are scheduled for 13 April. “As human beings, they also have at least basic human rights to live and not to die of COVID-19 in the precincts of a prison, which has despicable living conditions,” said a JLI advocate.

Concerns have also been raised concerning persons confined in India’s network of prisons, where measures such as the cancellation of visits prompted some prisoners to riot. Although some have been released since the Supreme Court’s order on 23 March, others remain in facilities renowned for their poor living conditions. Foreigners are amongst those detained inside Indian prisons, however the GDP has not been able to determine whether they were amongst those released. Arundhati Roy, Professor Gilbert Achcar, and other leading intellectual figures signed an appeal urging for authorities to release political prisoners, who were not included in the 23 March order. They note that many persons who have been arbitrarily detained have been in prison for years awaiting trial and, as a result of prolonged confinement, suffer from a wide array of health conditions which leave them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Similar concerns could be expressed for immigration detainees, many of whom have been subjected to lengthy detention.