At least 11 people died on Wednesday night when fire broke out in a detention centre at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. The building, completed in late 2002, had already been the scene of fire shortly after it opened. A number of detainees say that staff initially failed to react to their shouts for help. The authorities have launched an independent inquiry into the precise cause of the blaze.
The fire broke out in one wing of the complex shortly after midnight and spread quickly. At the time, the wing housed a total of 43 people, 11 of whom are now known to have died. A large number of vehicles from the fire service were called in to tackle the flames, and it took some three hours before the blaze was under control. In addition to the 11 people who lost their lives, another 15 were injured, including staff who work in the building.
The detention centre is used to house illegal immigrants pending their deportation, suspected drug smugglers, and people who have been refused entry to the Netherlands. The 43 detainees in the affected part of the complex were housed in 24 two-person cells, around half of which were directly affected by the blaze. Personnel 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.
One detainee said that staff initially refused to believed a fire had broken out: "They said things like 'there's nothing wrong'. The doors weren't opened. We just stayed closed in."During the ensuing chaos, an unknown number of inmates managed to escape. Three of them were later found by the police.
The complex was hit by fire on a previous occasion in November 2002, shortly after construction work had finished. It was not yet in use at that time and there were no casualties.
The local authorities in the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, in which Schiphol Airport is located, have launched an independent investigation. The inquiry will not only focus on the exact circumstances of the fire and the role played by the emergency services, but also on other factors.
Meanwhile, the European Group for the Rights of Prisoners has said it wants to know how it was possible for the fire to spread so quickly from one cell to another, especially given the fact that there had already been a fire in the building, reports Radio Netherlands. Photo: Radio Netherlands