THE European Group for the Rights of Prisoners (EORG) was demanding answers yesterday after at least 11 people were tragically burned to death on Wednesday night after fire broke out in a detention centre at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
The screams of the trapped were allegedly ignored.
One detainee said that staff initially refused to believe a fire had broken out.
‘They said things like “there’s nothing wrong”. The doors weren’t opened. We just stayed closed in.
‘They didn’t open the door, they kept us locked up – our throats started hurting, we were kicking and screaming.’
The 43 detainees, mostly refugees, in the affected part of the complex were housed in 24 two-person cells, around half of which were directly affected by the blaze.
When the security personnel did react they had to open each individual cell manually.
The authorities later commented that it was not possible to open all the cells simultaneously by electronic means.
EORG demanded how it was possible for a fire to spread so quickly from one cell to another.
At least 11 of the 43 people being detained in one wing died, and 15 were hospitalised, after the fire broke out for three hours, soon after midnight on Wednesday.
Around 350 people were being held in the centre in total.
The cause of the blaze was still unknown yesterday.
This was the second fire at the detention facility. The new building, completed in late 2002, was the scene of a fire shortly after it opened.
Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said yesterday: ‘In the recent months we have witnessed a series of tragic events in which a number of immigrants have died.
‘This latest incident in the Netherlands, together with the fires in several buildings housing immigrants in Paris and the recent dramatic events in Ceuta and Mellila to name just a few, should serve as a warning of the hazardous situation affecting migrants in many of the Council of Europe member states.
‘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.’
A spokesman for the prosecutors’ office, Martin Bruinsma, said the emergency services had acted ‘very quickly’ on Wednesday night, but that cell doors could only be opened manually, one at a time.
The Dutch political establishment has reacted with shock to the blaze. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said: ‘I am shocked by a disaster of this size. Our thoughts are with the families of those who died.’
Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner and his colleague at the Ministry for Immigration, Rita Verdonk, are to visit the scene of the fire today.
Other politicians have demanded to know whether the detention centre met all the statutory safety requirements.