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India builds mass detention camps for nearly 2 million 'stripped of citizenship'

A controversial citizenship list has left almost two million people facing statelessness. [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2019

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India is building at least ten mass detention camps in Assam after up to two million people were effectively stripped of their citizenship.

Indian authorities are building mass detention camps after nearly 2 million people were left facing statelessness after being effectively stripped of their citizenship.

The north-eastern state of Assam left almost 2 million people off a list of citizens released earlier in September, after a mammoth process aimed at throwing out "foreign infiltrators".

Most of those left off are Muslims, stoking fears among India's 170 million Islamic minority for their future under Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The United Nations and other human rights groups have condemned the move and expressed concerns that many could be left stateless.

Labourers in Assam have already begun clearing dense forest in an area equivalent to around seven football fields to build a mass detention centre for the so-called illegal immigrants.

The camp near the town of Goalpara will hold at least 3,000 detainees and contain a school and hospital, all surrounded by a security wall and watchtowers, workers and contractors told Reuters.

Read more: India's bludgeoning of Kashmir is a new low for global anti-Muslim violence

It is the first of at least ten detention centres planned in Assam, according to local media reports.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party runs Assam, and critics say the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process reflects the BJP's goal to serve only its co-religionists.

Those left off the NRC have 120 days to appeal at special Foreigners Tribunals, which the government says are being expanded in number.

Those rejected by the tribunals who have exhausted all other legal avenues can be declared foreigners and - in theory - be placed in detention centres with a view to possible deportation.

The controversial citizenship register was published just weeks after India's decision to revoke the autonomous status of the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir last month.

Assam, a poor and isolated state in India's far northeast neighbouring Bangladesh, has long seen large influxes of migrants from elsewhere.

Bengali speakers make up around 30 percent of Assam's 33 million population.

About two-thirds of the Bengalis are Muslim, the rest Hindu. Assamese speakers, the largest community, are mostly Hindu. 

Tensions in the ethnic and religious melting pot have at times boiled over into violence with 2,000 Bengali Muslims butchered in one day in 1983.

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