A woman wearing a Venezuelan flag over her fleece sweater kneels down to light a Canada at a vigil outside an immigration detention centre in Mexico where a fatal fire took place. Photo credit: Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Mexico: Fatal fire in migrant detention centre is result of inhumane policies

The fire in the migrant detention centre in Ciudad Juárez in the early hours of 28 March, in which at least 40 migrants died, was a consequence of the restrictive and cruel immigration policies shared by the governments of Mexico and the United States, Amnesty International said today.

These devastating events lay bare a truly inhumane system of immigration enforcement. How is it possible that the Mexican authorities left human beings locked up with no way to escape the fire?’

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director, Amnesty International

“These devastating events lay bare a truly inhumane system of immigration enforcement. How is it possible that the Mexican authorities left human beings locked up with no way to escape the fire?” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“It’s extremely insensitive and offensive that both President López Obrador, in his morning press conference, and the National Institute of Migration, in an official statement, have insisted on using euphemisms to downplay the seriousness of the events and to blame the migrants. These facilities are not ‘shelters’, but detention centres, and people are not ‘housed’ there, but deprived of their freedom.”

Condolences for victims of Mexico detention centre fire

Amnesty International extends its condolences to the families of the at least 40 migrants who died and its solidarity with the 29 who were hospitalized because of the fire.

According to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office, among the dead and injured were 28 Guatemalans, 13 Hondurans, 12 Venezuelans, 12 Salvadorans, one Ecuadorian and one Colombian.

This tragedy occurred in a context in which people have been forced to seek international protection. They are at risk of losing their lives or suffering other human rights violations, both in their countries of origin, in transit, and at their destination. Faced with this situation, the countries in the region, led by the United States, have established shared migration policies that are increasingly inhumane, making it almost impossible to access the right to seek asylum, and forcing people to seek more dangerous routes that place them in even more vulnerable situations.

As part of this strategy to curb migration in collaboration with the United States and Canada, Mexican authorities have tasked the National Guard with immigration enforcement and militarized the nation’s borders. In addition, they have systematically used immigration detention. In 2022 alone, immigration authorities detained at least 318,660 people in migrant detention centres and expelled more than 106,000, including children and adolescents.

2023 court rulings imposes limits on immigration detention in Mexico

These detentions are carried out without complying with the standards of exceptionality, proportionality, necessity and appropriateness of detention, nor with the highest standards regarding dignified detention conditions, including the prohibition of overcrowding and the availability of sufficient food and water. The First Chamber of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) established on 15 March 2023 that people should not be held in migrant detention centres for more than 36 hours, after which they should be released from detention.

“What happened in Ciudad Juarez is a reminder of the importance of adjusting immigration regulations to adhere to the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Justice and put an end to the practices that have caused untold damage, including torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, to thousands of migrants who have passed through these centres,” said Edith Olivares Ferreto, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico.

North American immigration policies must respect human rights: Amnesty International

Amnesty International urges the Mexican state to comply with the ruling of the SCJN and to establish protocols to act in fires, as well as evacuation routes in such situations. It also calls on the state to investigate the human rights violations, especially the allegations that the migrants were left locked up while the fire occurred, as well as to recognize that the migrants were in its custody and, therefore, it was its obligation both to prevent the fire and to act diligently during the fire to avoid fatal consequences.

It is also essential to guarantee the right to health of those hospitalized and their right to immigration regularization if they so wish, as well as the identification and dignified repatriation of the bodies of the deceased.

Finally, Amnesty International urges North American governments, led by the United States, to change the focus of their immigration policy to one centred on human rights that guarantees that migrants can seek and receive asylum, safe migration and respect for all their rights.