At least 38 migrants were killed and dozens more were injured Monday night in the fire at a National Migration Institute lockup in Ciudad Juarez, just south of the U.S. border. The fire broke out when migrants fearing deportation set mattresses ablaze, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said.
Now shocking security footage taken from inside the detention center has emerged that shows several guards hurrying away without attempting to rescue the prisoners as flames spread quickly inside a locked cell, and detainees pleading for help.
It was the deadliest incident in recent memory at Mexico’s notoriously crowded immigration holding centers and another reminder of the many perils faced by migrants trying to reach the United States.
The security footage, which was broadcast and later authenticated by a Mexican official to a local reporter, shows at least two people dressed as guards rush into the frame, then run off as a cloud of smoke quickly filled the area. They did not appear to attempt to open cell doors so migrants could escape the fire. At least one migrant is seen kicking at a cell door while flames grow.
Authorities were investigating the fire, the institute said. The country’s prosecutor general has launched an investigation, Andrea Chávez, federal deputy of Ciudad Juarez, said in a statement. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission also was alerted.
López Obrador said the fire was started by migrants inside the facility after they learned they would be deported. He added, “They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune.”
The immigration institute said it “energetically rejects the actions that led to this tragedy,” without further explaining what those actions may have been.
Global human rights organizations called for stronger protections for asylum seekers and expressed outrage over the fire, which they said sheds light on systemic issues related to the detention and treatment of migrants.
Mexico’s interior secretary, Adán Augusto López, told local journalist Joaquín López Doriga he was familiar with the video.
The institute said 68 men from Central and South America were staying at the immigration facility at the time of the fire. Authorities were working with other countries to identify the dead.
Victims were identified as being from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Guatemalans made up the largest contingent, according to the Mexican attorney general’s office.
Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old woman from Venezuela and her two children, ages 2 and 4, were looking for her half-brother in the aftermath of the fire.
“We want to know if he is alive or if he’s dead,” she told The Associated Press. She wondered how all the guards who were inside made it out alive and only the migrants died. “How could they not get them out?”
The fire serves as a “reminder to the governments of the region of the importance of fixing a broken migration system,” said Ken Salazar, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, in a Twitter statement.
The immigration institute has struggled recently with overcrowding in its facilities. About 20 migrants, officials and human rights workers described a southern Mexico immigration detention center run by the institute as crowded and filthy, according to an investigation by The Associated Press in 2019.
The “extensive use of immigration detention leads to tragedies like this,” Felipe González Morales, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights of migrants, said in a Twitter statement.
Discussion about this post