Fire at Dutch airport prison kills 11 illegal immigrants
Guards at a detention centre at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam were on Thursday night accused of negligence after at least 11 illegal immigrants burned to death in a fire at the complex. The inmates, who had been awaiting deportation, died after the fire spread through the building in the early hours of Thursday. At least 15 other detainees were injured.
The building on the east side of Europe’s fourth-largest airport is surrounded by a three-metre fence and barbed wire.
Set up in 2002, it is used to detain people who arrive by plane and have been refused entry to The Netherlands, including drug dealers and failed asylum seekers.
“They were illegal aliens waiting to be extradited to their countries of origin,” the Dutch immigration service said, adding: “We are still busy trying to confirm their identities.”
The fire broke out shortly after midnight and raged until 3am. An unknown number of detainees managed to escape. Three were later recaptured.
One detainee said the inmates had tried to raise the alarm, but were ignored by guards who told them nothing was wrong. “First they said there was no problem, and they just kept us locked up,” the unidentified detainee told the Dutch TV station NOS.
“Our throats started hurting. We kicked, we screamed, we rang the bell of course. And then panic broke out.”
About 350 people were being held in the complex. About 43 were in the wing that caught fire.
The Netherlands, which has one of the harshest immigration policies in Europe, is in the process of deporting 26 000 failed asylum seekers. Human rights groups have criticised the policy, saying people have been deported to countries where they could face persecution or abuse.
The Council of Europe’s secretary general, Terry Davis, said the blaze and several other fires that have killed immigrants in France “should serve as a warning of the hazardous situation affecting migrants”. “We must never forget that the bottom line of our migration policies and procedures must be respect for human rights, human dignity and the physical and mental integrity of the persons involved,” he told the Associated Press.
The cause of the fire has not been established, although press reports have claimed that an inmate could have started it. Hundreds of cocaine smugglers, mostly from the Caribbean and Curacao, are detained at the airport every year.
“It’s terrible if you hear about a fire of such size, 11 people dead,” said the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, adding: “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the wounded.” - Guardian Unlimited