At least 39 people were killed after a fire broke out at a migration center along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Tuesday.
Authorities believe the fire was caused by a protest initiated by some of the migrants detained at the center “after we think, they found out they’d be deported,” according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Based on initial reports, migrants fearing deportation put small mattresses at the door of the shelter and set them on fire “as a form of protest,” López Obrador said in a press conference Tuesday morning. “They didn’t imagine this would cause this misfortune.”
The fire began after 9 p.m. Monday night at the migration center run by the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juárez, the agency said in a statement. The migrants at the facility had been detained by authorities.
While the National Migration Institute did not immediately reveal the cause of the fire, the agency said that it “strongly rejects the acts that led to this tragedy,” without elaborating on what they may have been.
Dozens more were injured, with 29 people taken to four hospitals in “delicate-serious condition,” the agency said, adding that there were 68 men from Central America and South America — mainly Venezuela — being held in the facility at the time of the fire.
Authorities haven’t released any victims’ names and exact nationalities, López Obrador said. But Guatemala’s General Directorate of Migration confirmed that 28 Guatemalans were among the fatal victims.
According to the country’s prosecutor general, which has initiated an investigation, 13 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, 12 Venezuelans, a Colombian and an Ecuadorian person were among the 68 people affected by the blaze.
The UN Secretary-General on Tuesday called for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of at least 39 migrants in a fire at a processing centre on the border between Mexico and the United States.
The blaze at the migrant centre which was reportedly run by Mexico’s National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juarez, began during a protest against imminent deportations on Monday night, according to local officials. There were 68 adult men in total staying at the facility, the Institute reported.
Francisco Garduño Yañez, commissioner of the National Migration Institute, was visiting the local hospitals where the injured migrants were taken “to check on their health conditions,” the agency said in a tweet.
The agency also said that immigration authorities “will provide Visitor Cards for Humanitarian Reasons to the injured and will cover the medical requirements for a speedy recovery.” Migrants who are seeking refugee status or were victims of a crime in Mexico can be eligible for visitor cards for humanitarian reasons.
In recent years, as Mexico has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migration to the U.S. border under pressure from Washington, its National Immigration Institute has struggled with overcrowding in its facilities.