A fire broke out at a government-run migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez, has killed at least 40 people on Monday night, Mexican officials said on Tuesday.
Ciudad Juarez, is a city in northern Mexico, on the United States border,
Video recorded at the scene of the tragedy showed first responders aiding survivors, wrapping them in silver, thermal blankets, before placing them on stretchers and into ambulances.
Firefighters carried limp, lifeless bodies from the building. Some of the victims bodies were covered in black soot, placed next to each other in a row.
The deadly blaze has underlined the urgent situation in Mexican cities along the border, which have been inundated with migrants sent back from the US by a pandemic-era public health restriction that is set to expire in early May.
The fire at the National Migration Institute (INM) facility started shortly after 10 p.m. inside an accommodation area, according to the agency.
Authorities said it broke out after they picked up and detained a group of migrants from the streets of the border city, which sits across from El Paso, Texas.
Sixty-eight men from Central and South America were being held at the facility, the INM said in a statement, adding that 29 who were injured in the fire were taken to local hospitals for emergency care.
At least 28 Guatemalan nationals were among the dead, Guatemala’s Institute of Migration confirmed.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the men detained at the center were angry at the officials, and had been demonstrating against their deportation.
“What we know so far is that migrants from Central America and some from Venezuela were in that shelter. We still do not know exactly the names and nationalities of those who unfortunately lost their lives,” López Obrador said.
“This had to do with a protest that they started after, we assume, they found out that they were going to be deported, and as a protest, they put mattresses from the shelter at the door of the shelter, and they set fire to them and they did not imagine that this was going to cause this terrible accident.”
“It is very sad that this is happening,” the president added.
Andrea Chavez, Ciudad Juarez’s federal deputy, shared her condolences with families of the migrants, and said that Mexican authorities had launched an investigation to determine who was responsible for the tragedy. “It is with deep sadness and grief that we learned of the fire that occurred inside the INM in Ciudad Juárez,” she said on Twitter.
An eyewitness to the blaze, a Venezuelan woman whose husband was trapped inside the building and injured in the fire, spoke to Reuters news agency. Fighting back tears, she blamed Mexican authorities and claimed the doors to the detention center were not opened.
“At 10 p.m., we started to see smoke billowing from everywhere, everybody ran away but they left the men locked in. Everybody was removed from the area, but they left the men locked in. They never opened the door,” 31-year-old Viangly Infante, a Venezuelan national, told the agency.
Her husband, 27-year-old Eduard Caraballo, was inside the detention center and survived by spraying water on himself, according to Infante, who said she saw many dead bodies.
He was taken to the hospital with breathing problems, Reuters reported.
Another Venezuelan migrant, Emilio Jose, who was looking for his wife, told Reuters that he was not being given any information regarding her whereabouts.
“Even if we are illegal or undocumented, we are human beings who feel. Look at what happened; some people are injured and are suffering the consequences of what happened,” he said.
The INM said it strongly rejected “the acts that led to this tragedy,” adding that an investigation was underway. They did not indicate the cause of the fire. CNN has reached out to Mexico’s migration authorities for comment on the blaze.
Later on Tuesday, the agency said that migrants injured in the fire would be granted “visitor cards,” which will allow them to obtain legal immigration status in Mexico valid for one year.
“The immigration authority will provide visitor cards for humanitarian reasons to the injured and will cover the medical requirements for a speedy recovery,” INM commissioner Francisco Garduño said during a visit to local hospitals where migrants were being treated.
Migrants who are unaccompanied minors, have witnessed a crime or been victim to a crime while in Mexico are eligible for a visitor card, according to the Mexican immigration agency.