Almost 40 people were killed, and dozens more were injured after migrants set fire to mattresses “as a form of protest” over possible deportations, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López said. Authorities believe the fire was caused by a protest initiated by some of the migrants sheltered at the center, “after we think, they found out they’d be deported,” he said. Dozens more in “delicate-serious condition” were sent to four nearby hospitals. Firefighters, police, and rescue teams responded to the deadly fire at a facility in Chihuahua State, not far from the Santa Fe International Bridge and across the border from El Paso, Texas. Ciudad Juarez is a major crossing point for migrants attempting to make the journey across the border to the United States. Although the National Migration Institute has not released an official cause of the fire, a spokesman for the agency said it “strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy.”
By Nicole Acevedo & Mithil Aggarwal & Suzanne Gamboa; March 28, 2023
Authorities believe the fire was caused by a protest initiated by some of the migrants detained at the center “after we think, they found out they’d be deported,” according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Based on initial reports, migrants fearing deportation put small mattresses at the door of the shelter and set them on fire “as a form of protest,” López Obrador said in a press conference Tuesday morning. “They didn’t imagine this would cause this misfortune.”
The fire began after 9 p.m. Monday night at the migration center run by the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juárez, the agency said in a statement. The migrants at the facility had been detained by authorities.
While the National Migration Institute did not immediately reveal the cause of the fire, the agency said that it “strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy,” without elaborating on what they may have been.
Dozens more were injured, with 29 people taken to four hospitals in “delicate-serious condition,” the agency said, adding that there were 68 men from Central America and South America — mainly Venezuela — being held in the facility at the time of the fire.
Authorities haven’t released any victims’ names and exact nationalities, López Obrador said. But Guatemala’s General Directorate of Migration confirmed that 28 Guatemalans were among the fatal victims.
According to the country’s prosecutor general, which has initiated an investigation, 13 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, 12 Venezuelans, a Colombian and an Ecuadorian person were among the 68 people affected by the blaze.
Consular teams were also being engaged to further identify the deceased, officials said.
Francisco Garduño Yañez, commissioner of the National Migration Institute, was visiting the local hospitals where the injured migrants were taken “to check on their health conditions,” the agency said in a tweet.
The agency also said that immigration authorities “will provide Visitor Cards for Humanitarian Reasons to the injured and will cover the medical requirements for a speedy recovery.” Migrants who are seeking refugee status or were victims of a crime in Mexico can be eligible for visitor cards for humanitarian reasons.
A Venezuelan migrant, Viangly Infante, had been desperately looking for her 27-year-old husband, Eduard Caraballo.
“I was here since one in the afternoon waiting for the father of my children, and when 10 p.m. rolled around, smoke started coming out from everywhere,” she told Reuters.
Her husband did survive, Infante said, by dousing himself in water and pressing against a door.
Images showed rows of bodies laid out under silver sheets as rescue teams, firefighters and police responded to the scene.
The facility, in Chihuahua state, is close to the Santa Fe International Bridge and across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Most migration centers run by the National Migration Institute are meant to serve as a processing center and “a centro de alojamiento” (shelter) meant for short stays for migrants in transit, Fernando García, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a human rights advocacy and immigration reform organization in the U.S.-Mexico border, told NBC News.
These migration centers “should not be detention centers” of the agency, García said.
Ciudad Juarez is a major crossing point for migrants trying to make the journey across the border to the United States.
Its shelters are full of migrants waiting for opportunities to cross or who are waiting out the asylum process.
In recent years, as Mexico has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migration to the U.S. border under pressure from Washington, its National Immigration Institute has struggled with overcrowding in its facilities.