Questions raised over Kerala govt’s new circular of starting detention centers

Kerala’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has initiated procedures for setting up detention center for foreign nationals in the state, according to a circular issued by Kerala State Social Justice Department, last month.

Although the state government clarifies that it is for housing foreign nationals arrested in criminal cases until their deportation process is done, the new move is seen as a contradiction to the CPI(M) led government’s earlier claims.

In 2019, during the first term, the Pinarayi Vijayn government had rejected the reports that it was planning to build detention centers in the wake of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Chief Minister’s Office had issued any order asking for all measures taken for the execution of detention center in the state, to be stopped.

The Opposition leaders in the state criticised the new move by LDF government.

Meanwhile, ‘Janmabhumi’, the BJP mouthpiece in Kerala, report claimed that the detention center is built as per the instructions of the Union Home Ministry for enforcing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The government or CM has not responded to this allegations yet.

What state government’s new circular says?

“Foreigners who entered the country illegally” and “foreign nationals arrested in criminal cases and for other rule violations will be housed in these centres before they are deported after completing the legal procedures”, according to government circular.

The State Social Justice Director has released this official order titled “Starting Detention Centre- Re-notification-EOI-invited reg” announcing the construction of detention centres at two cities in the state Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur to house the foreign citizens with the help of NGOs.

Reports say the state government has initiated procedures for setting up detention centers, in the wake of an instruction from the High Court in an appeal by two Nigerian citizens who were arrested and housed in Viyyur Central Prison.

On 18 December 2020, the HC had observed that the foreign nationals are continuing inside the jail indefinitely and the state government has done nothing to implement its directive of 2015.

In 2015, the Centre had instructed all states to set up temporary detention centers for housing the foreign nationals who have been arrested in India and are waiting deportation.

On April 9 this year, the same bench had issued another order saying that no policy decision is necessary to find a temporary detention center and instructed the state government to earmark one within a month.

CM’s 2019 statement of ‘No detention centers in Kerala” and new move

The plan to set up detention centres was kept in abeyance in the state in the wake of strong protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 December.

In December 2019, the State Department of Social Justice told media that the Kerala government had no plans of setting up detention centres in the state. This clarification was prompted by a news report in The Hindu which said that the state was looking for buildings to detain illegal foreign nationals who were awaiting deportation.

Following the controversy around detention centres being planned in state, in 2019 December, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office released a detailed explanation on the issue.

CM said that it was the former UPA government which had proposed detention centres to be set up to house illegal foreign nationals. The government had written to home secretaries of the states to come up with proposals back in 2012, CM said.

“These centres were to house foreign nationals who have illegally entered the country, those whose have stayed on illegally even after their visas and passports have expired, convicts who have completed their jail term and are awaiting the completion of the legal steps taken by the state for deportation,” read the statement by Pinarayi Vijayn.

More importantly, CM said: “Considering today’s circumstances, we have issued any order asking for all measures taken for the execution of this project, initiated by the former government in 2012, to be stopped.”

In 2019 December, any move of setting up detention centers would have been seen as a pro-CAA move by the left government, especially at a time when it had been a staunch critic of the controversial CAA

However, after 18 months of refuting the reports of detention centers being planned in the state, the same government has initiated procedures for setting up detention centers for foreign nationals in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram district or Thrissur district.

BJP mouthpiece says ‘detention centers’ are for enforcing CAA

Kerala BJP’s news daily Janmabhumi’s report titled “Kerala to build a detention center for enforcing the citizenship law; Pinarayi government follows central home ministry instructions” claims that the detention center will be initially used to house convicted foreign nationals who have finished their term until they are deported and later for housing the ‘illegal migrants.

The government or CM has not responded to this report yet.

Muslim League senior leader, former minister questions the move

Former education minister and Indian Union Muslim League senior politician PK Abdu Rabb has launched a fresh attack against the left government’s move to build the detention centers in Kerala.

“Why is the Pinarayi government going ahead with such a decision? Along with the arrested foreign nationals who await deportation, it mentions ‘foreigners who live in India illegally’- who are these illegal foreigners and what document shall they present to prove their nationality?” Rabb asked in his Facebook post.