Amsterdam fire kills 11 illegal immigrants awaiting deportation |

Amsterdam fire kills 11 illegal immigrants awaiting deportation

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A fire raged Thursday through a prison complex near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, killing 11 illegal aliens awaiting deportation and raising questions about whether the Dutch government sacrificed safety standards in a crackdown on immigration.The nationalities of the dead were not immediately released.The Dutch Council for Refugees, an advocacy group, said it was the prison’s third fire since it was built during a rapid expansion of detention facilities in 2002. Nobody was hurt in the previous fires.Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said the prison recently passed a fire safety inspection, but he ordered the Safety Investigation Council to open an independent investigation.Officials should determine “whether steps should be taken at other facilities, so that people there don’t have to sit there wondering, ‘could this happen to us too?”‘ Donner said.The Dutch Parliament called an emergency session Thursday evening to question Donner.The fire started in a cell just after midnight and quickly spread, raging for three hours. Fifteen people were injured, including firefighters and airport police. Four people were hospitalized.Police were trying to determine the cause, and officials would not comment on reports that a detainee started the fire.Eleven detainees escaped, but six were captured. Hundreds of other detainees were bused to holding centers in nearby cities.The prison was used to hold illegal immigrants and drug smugglers who arrived by plane and were refused entry, as well as rejected asylum seekers.Jolan van der Broek, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Council for Refugees, said a safety review conducted after a November 2002 fire found the prison needed fireproof doors and a system for unlocking cells simultaneously in case of an emergency, but those steps were never taken.”They knew it was dangerous, but nobody did anything,” she said. “We’re very concerned about what happened, and worried that it will happen again.”A 2002 fire burned 25 cells, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS reported, but its cause was unknown. Another fire in November 2003 did not spread beyond the cell of a detainee who started it, NOS said.Fire department officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the previous blazes.A prisoner told NOS that guards initially did not take prisoners’ warnings of a fire seriously.”They didn’t open the door. They kept us locked up. Our throats started hurting. We were kicking and screaming,” said the detainee, who was not identified.Donner said guards “did what they could do during and after the fire.” He promised the government would compensate the victims’ families, though immigration officials were still trying to confirm their identities. The justice ministry set up an information hot line.”It’s terrible if you hear about a fire of such size, 11 people dead,” Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told reporters in London, where he was attending a European Union summit. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the wounded.”The large prison block is located on the east side of Europe’s fourth-largest airport and is surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence and barbed wire.About 350 prisoners were being held in the complex when the fire broke out, and 43 were in the wing that caught fire.The Netherlands’ center-right government, elected on promises to be tough on crime and immigration, is in the process of deporting some 26,000 failed asylum seekers.Human rights groups have criticized the policy, saying some people have been deported to countries where they could face persecution or abuse.Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis said the blaze – and recent deadly clashes between guards and African immigrants trying to rush over fences into Spanish enclaves in Morocco – “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,” he said.Vail, Colorado

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