A security camera recorded the moment the fire started at the immigration station in Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua, which has left 40 dead and 28 seriously injured so far. In the 32 seconds of the video, migrants locked in a cell are observed while the fire grows and the smoke spreads. Three agents of the National Institute of Migration (INM) are also seen who walk through the room and finally leave. None of these agents makes an attempt to get the victims who were locked up, at least during the time the recording lasts. This newspaper has unsuccessfully tried to obtain the INM’s version of what happened.
The fire started Monday around 9:30 p.m. Around 70 migrants had been detained throughout the day for selling handicrafts or asking for money on the street. Federal authorities took them to the facilities of their immigration center, located on the Stanton-Lerdo International Bridge, a few meters from the Rio Grande, which marks the border between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, on the United States side. There they took their statements, some were interviewed, and then they were separated by gender.
The fire originated in the room where the men were: they burned some of the mattresses in the immigration station. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has assured this Tuesday that they did it in protest for fear of being deported. Some local media have pointed out that the burning was to draw attention to the conditions in which they were being held.
In the video you can see how the flames begin to grow in one of the corners of the room and begin to appear through the bars. In those first moments, three agents of the National Institute of Migration (INM), two men and one woman, are identified. She is the first to leave the room, while a migrant kicks the fence. At one point, another of the detainees approaches the bars in the direction of the two agents who are still there, the recording is without sound so it is not known what he could have said. However, neither of the two INM officials reacted, nor did they even turn towards the cell, which had quickly filled with smoke. The last agent runs out without looking back towards the dozens of men who remained locked in with the fire.
In the last seconds of the video, the image is losing clarity because the smoke begins to fill the entire room. Only several sources of flames inside the cell are highlighted.
In its latest statement, the INM does not refer to this episode either, but rather claims to be collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office —in charge of the investigation— and the National Human Rights Commission to “clarify the truth of what happened.” It has made the testimonies and evidence of public servants available to the agents. The Government of Chihuahua has confirmed that seven officials had to be evacuated, as well as 15 women, who were unharmed, to whom medical and psychological care is being provided. The INM has indicated that all those affected have been granted a visitor’s permit for humanitarian reasons so that they can be treated in hospitals. In addition, the federal government will cover the funeral expenses of the deceased.
The Guatemalan Migration Institute has stated that 28 of the deceased are from Guatemala. For his part, Foreign Minister Tony García has identified the 13 fatalities in Honduras. This gives a total of 41 deaths, one more than the INM has reported so far. In addition, the FGR has confirmed that another 12 Venezuelans, 12 Salvadorans, a Colombian and an Ecuadorian would make up the number of injured, according to the current numbers handled by the authorities.
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has called for a thorough investigation into what happened, while the Joe Biden government has used the incident to warn about the dangers of migrating. “This tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the risks migrants and refugees face around the world,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said at a press conference on Tuesday.
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