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Set up temporary facility for foreign nationals on a war-footing, says Kerala HC

- September 19, 2022

Thiruvananthapuram, September 19 (BPNS)

The Kerala High Court had pulled up the state government for not setting up temporary facilities for foreign nationals who had to stay back owing to various rules violations. The court while pointing out that the concerned are yet to take proper steps, despite various orders, further directed to set up such a facility on a war footing manner.

Earlier this month, the government had floated the plan to set up ‘transit homes’ for lodging foreign nationals. The Social Justice Department (SJD) was also appointed as the nodal agency for setting up such homes. As per the plan, 14 such homes will be established, but initially, they will come up in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, and Kozhikode districts. According to the SJD, which had prepared a guideline for establishing ‘transit homes’, the facility will act as a temporary house for foreigners who are facing various rules violations and they have to stay here till their deportation.

At the same time, though the plan to set up ‘transit homes’ was brought to the attention of the court, Justice Ziyad Rahman AA, who considered the matter, made the following observation, 

“…it is evident that even though a temporary facility was earlier reported to have been identified by the Home Department, the same did not materialize and now further orders are seen passed to achieve the said objective. Therefore, it is evident that the government is not taking proper steps in this regard despite various orders passed by this court from time to time.”

The court then directed the SJD secretary, and home secretary to take urgent steps to identify the building and to set up a temporary facility as directed by the court on a war footing basis.

The matter will again be considered on October 14.

As per the guideline released by the SJD for transit homes, it will have the facility of lodging 30 men, 30 women, five transgenders, and five families. Those who are sent to ‘transit homes’ could stay there for a maximum of one year or till the completion of legal procedures or whichever is earlier.

“Only such foreigners who are sent by courts or jail authorities or Foreign Registration Office or Foreign Regional Registration Offices or by law enforcement agencies,” said an officer of the SJD.

The officer further added, “An eligibility criteria of those who can be housed at transit homes has been prepared. Foreign nationals who are detained under national security or public security interests will not be housed at transit homes. Instead, they will be sent to jails.”

As per the guideline, only those foreign national who falls under any of the following seven categories will get housed at transit homes, they are,

–      those faced proceedings on charges including traveling without valid documents, embassy-related issues, and others

–        illegal immigrants are traced out by agencies and their lodging is subject to the certification provided by the state home department

–       those who are declared as a ‘foreigner’ by a foreigners’ tribunal

–       those who landed here with forged documents for ‘medical emergencies and are waiting for an ‘eligible to travel’ declaration from the concerned, only those who are certified by an assistant surgeon will be eligible for staying at transit homes

–      those who are facing restrictions or deportation imposed by Foreign Registration Office/ Foreign Regional Registration Office

–      those who violate visa conditions like overstaying, based on certifications from police personnel (SI rank) and Norka

–      those foreigners who landed in jail due to suspicious conduct or violent or disorderly behavior, their admission is subjected to approval from the police superintendent or superintendent of the mental health center

The guideline mandates that transit homes should get established outside the jail premises. If it is being set up inside a jail, then it should be free from a jail-like atmosphere and restrictions.

“Such homes could either be newly made ones or be operated from rented buildings. Foreigners will have the right to contact their embassy/consulate and their family members. They will be made aware of the same at the time of admission itself. Staff at transit homes will be provided with an orientation on how to behave with foreigners. A skill development center could be set up at transit homes. Children being lodged at transit homes will be provided with education as they could seek admission to a school nearest to the home,” reads an excerpt from the guideline.

It was based on a high court directive that the government decided to set up transit homes. While hearing an appeal filed by two Nigerian nationals in 2020, it was Justice PV Kunhikrishnan who directed the home secretary to establish transit homes. Following that, the state police established a temporary facility at Thrissur’s Poonkunnam. But now it was decided to establish ‘transit homes’ in all districts based on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ 2019 Model Detention Manual.