Bengaluru: Over a year after the Karnataka government announced the setting up of a detention centre for foreigners illegally staying in the country, the facility got its first detainee — Sudanese national Omer Altayb Hajahmed.
Hajahmed was arrested in 2019 under the Foreigners Act for overstaying in India after his visa lapsed. He had originally travelled to India in 2014 on a student visa, which expired two years later. He was finally tracked down by the Yelahanka police after his passport expired in March 2019.
Since then, Hajahmed had been in judicial custody and was finally shifted to the detention center on 17 November. Hajahmed will remain in the detention centre until his trial ends and the court takes a decision on his deportation.
Karnataka’s Director General of Police Praveen Sood told ThePrint that Hajahmed was sent to the centre as there was no other place to house him.
“The point is that if you want to deport them, where do you keep them in the interim,” Sood said. “They cannot be sent to jail as it is counterproductive. Keeping them in jail means they will get bail on the condition that they do not leave the country until their court case is disposed of. So, it almost becomes legal for them to stay in the country even though they have committed a crime.”
“The detention centre will serve the purpose of keeping them in one place, which is not a jail. They will be deported once the arrangements are made,” said Sood.
Detention centre in the middle of CAA controversy
The detention centre, which is located in Sondekoppa village in Nelamangala, is barely 40 km away from Bengaluru.
A 20-year-old building, it previously served as a hostel for economically backward students. After realising that the number of students in the building had reduced drastically, the government had decided to convert it into a detention centre.
Established in March 2019, it became functional only in October.
Over ten City Armed Reserve (CAR) constables have been deployed at the centre on a rotational basis to ensure round the clock surveillance.
The detention centre caused quite an uproar amid nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year. Many believed those whose citizenship was found to be doubtful under the new legislation would be housed there.
Govt denies any link to citizenship bill
Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai had earlier clarified that it was meant only for those who were found to be living illegally in the state on expired visas and passports.
“In qualified terms, it is not a detention centre. There is no purpose per se to detain someone on the issue of citizenship,” Bommai said on December 25, 2019 during a media interaction.
“Call it a restriction centre, not a detention centre,” said an official from the Foreigner Regional Registration Office, who did not wish to be named.
According to sources in the state home ministry, the detention centre has nothing to do with the citizenship bill. “There was a wrong notion that the centre was built to house Bangladeshis and other nationalities who would allegedly be separated based on their nationality,” said a state home department official.
“It is actually a place where foreign nationals, who have been found overstaying, will be kept until their cases are heard by the court. They will then be deported to their countries,” said a second government official overseeing the functioning of the centre.