At least 39 migrants died in an apparently deliberate fire that occurred late Monday at a detention center in the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez.
Twenty-nine other migrants were injured in the blaze, which began just before 10 p.m. in the “accommodation area” of the facility, according to a National Immigration Institute (INM) statement. They were taken to four different Ciudad Juárez hospitals in “delicate-serious” condition, the institute said.
A total of 68 Central American and South American men were being held at the detention center in the Chihuahua city opposite El Paso, Texas.
All migrants in the facility were killed or injured in the fire.
The INM did not mention the nationalities of the victims, but Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said that 28 of the deceased were believed to be from the country. A Mexican official told the Reuters news agency that Hondurans were also among the dead.
President López Obrador said Tuesday morning that it appeared that migrants set mattresses alight when they found out they were going to be deported.
“This has to do with a protest that we assume began when they found out they were going to be deported,” he told reporters at his regular morning news conference.
“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune,” said López Obrador, who noted that most of the migrants were from Central America and Venezuela.
According to local media organization La Verdad Juárez, the migrants were detained on Monday, locked up in the detention center and not given any water for several hours.
A spokesperson for the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said that Mexican officials had informed them that Venezuelan migrants set the mattresses on fire. Without giving details, the INM said that it “vigorously rejects the actions that led to this tragedy.”
It also said that it filed a complaint with the relevant authorities “so that what happened is investigated.”
A witness told the Reuters news service that she saw bodies and body bags lined up outside the detention center.
“I was here since one in the afternoon waiting for the father of my children, and when 10 p.m. rolled around, smoke started coming out from everywhere,” said Viangly Infante, a 31-year-old Venezuelan woman.
She confirmed that the fire had been extinguished. Ambulances, firefighters and vans from a Ciudad Juárez morgue swarmed the detention center, according to an Associated Press report.
Infante said her 27-year-old husband survived by dousing himself in water and pressing against a door.
The fire is among the deadliest tragedies involving migrants in Mexico in recent decades. Two incidents in which more migrants died include a 2021 tractor-trailer crash in Chiapas that claimed the lives of 55 clandestine passengers and the massacre of 72 migrants by cartel gunmen in Tamaulipas in 2010.
The number of migrants in northern border cities has increased in recent weeks, Reuters reported, noting that United States authorities are currently attempting to process asylum requests using a new U.S. government app called CBP One.
The app has been “overloaded by huge demand and plagued with glitches since tens of thousands of migrants staying in shelters on the Mexican side of the border began using it,” according to a New York Times report.
Amid frustration over difficulties with using CBP One, hundreds of mainly Venezuelan migrants tried to force their way into the United States via a Ciudad Juárez border crossing earlier this month.