39 burn to death in immigration centre inferno ‘as guards refused to open door’

Those trapped in an immigration facility blaze in Mexico pleaded in vain with a guard to open a door as 39 people perished, it is claimed.

The guard reportedly refused to open the eastern door during the fire, which it is thought was started by migrants angry at their imminent deportation.

As well as 39 deaths, a further 29 people have been hospitalised following the tragedy at the Instituto Nacional de Migración centre in Ciudad Juarez, which is just across the US-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas.

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Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the fire had been started by detainees as an act of protest against their deportations.

Rows of bodies were seen laid out under silver sheets outside the centre as investigations into the disaster continued.

The Mirror reported a police source as telling El Heraldo de Juarez: "One of the survivors told us that the area where they were was closed and that when they asked the guard to open the eastern door, he refused to do so."

Authorities said that most people died of suffocation and very few died from burns.

It was earlier reported that there was a fight between INM personnel and a group of migrants who were upset by an order given to them by immigration agents.

The source told El Heraldo de Juarez that after the fight, the same group of migrants set fire to part of the furniture and allegedly threw a type of solvent on the fire, causing an explosion.

As a result, the building was quickly wrapped in flames.

A hospital in close proximity to the detention centre has been given code red status as it deals with victims of the tragedy.

There were 68 men from Central and South America held in the facility at the time of the fire, the NIM said. A Guatemalan official said many of them were thought to be from the Central American country.

Tensions between authorities and migrants had apparently been running high in recent weeks in Ciudad Juarez, where shelters are full of people waiting for opportunities to cross into the US or who have requested asylum there and are waiting out the process.

More than 30 migrant shelters and other advocacy organizations published an open letter on March 9 that complained of the criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers in the city.

The high level of frustration in Ciudad Juarez was evident earlier this month when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants acting on false rumours that the US would allow them to enter the country tried to force their way across one of the international bridges to El Paso. US authorities blocked their attempts.

The national immigration agency said on Tuesday [March 28] that it “energetically rejects the actions that led to this tragedy” without any further explanation of what those actions might have been.

Mexico has emerged as the world’s third most popular destination for asylum-seekers, after the United States and Germany, but is still largely a transit country for those on the way to the US.

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