Deadly migrant centre fire in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico: What we know

At least 38 people were killed after a fire broke out at a detention facility in Mexico near the US border.

At least 38 people died and dozens were injured in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez near the border with the United States after a fire broke out at a migrant detention centre.

The blaze, which took place on Monday, was one of the deadliest in the country in years and is the latest in a series of fatal incidents involving migrants.

What happened at the facility?

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said authorities believed the blaze broke out at about 9:30pm (03:30 GMT on Tuesday) as some people set fire to mattresses after discovering they would be deported.

Surveillance video, broadcast by several media outlets and authenticated by the government’s Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez, appeared to show guards at the detention centre leaving as flames engulfed a cell with people trapped inside.

Migrants grieve in front at a Mexican immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez
People grieve in front of a Mexican immigration detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico [Christian Chavez/AP Photo]

Where were the victims from?

The dead and injured included people from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador, Mexican authorities said.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro told reporters that 28 citizens of his country were killed.

Why were people kept there?

Those who lost their lives on Monday are among thousands from South and Central America who undertake often dangerous journeys to get to the US in search of protection, with Ciudad Juarez serving as a major crossing point.

About 200,000 people try to cross the border from Mexico to the US each month.

Many are fleeing gang violence, systemic poverty and other socioeconomic problems in their home countries, and they say they have no other choice but to try to make it to the US.

While US President Joe Biden promised to reverse some of the most hardline immigration policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, he also has maintained deterrence as a key plank of his administration’s approach to migration.

In February, Biden proposed new restrictions on asylum seekers, hoping to stifle the rush of people to the border.

The new rules say those who arrive at the border and cross into the US will no longer be eligible for asylum. Instead, they must apply first for asylum in one of the countries they pass through to get to the US border, or apply online via a US government app.

A nurse takes care of a migrant who is one of the victims of a fire that broke out late on Monday at a migrant detention center, at Hospital General of Ciudad Juarez
A nurse takes care of one of the victims of a fire that broke out late on Monday at a migrant detention centre [Raquel Cunha/Reuters]

What has been the reaction?

Mexico’s attorney general’s office launched an inquiry with investigators at the scene, according to media reports.

Gretchen Kuhner, director of the Mexico-based Institute for Women in Migration, said Monday’s events were a “horrible example of why organisations have been working to limit or eliminate detention in Mexico”.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “thorough investigation into this tragic event”.

On Tuesday, El Salvador condemned the action of detention centre staff and demanded a thorough investigation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies