Statewatch article: RefNo# 27040
Netherlands: Eleven die in fire at "unsafe" detention centre
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 15 no 5 September-October 2005
On the night of 26-27 October, 11 people died and 15 were injured in the immigration detention centre located near Schiphol airport. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown and broke out in a prison bloc holding 43 undocumented migrants in 24 cells. Guards were unable to open all of the cells due to the rapid spread of the fire. Eight prisoners were able to escape in the commotion, three of whom were captured the next day. Other surviving prisoners were relocated to different detention centres around the country. Wakes for the victims and their families have been held in front of detention centres since the incident.

The private security company Securicor (now "Group 4 Securicor") took over part of the running of the centre; it relies on temporary workers who receive only basic training as "detention supervisors".

Criticism has also been levelled concerning the absence of fire precautions in the prison complex, which was built ad hoc in 2002 but started operating long-term in 2003. It is constructed from prefabricated containers, eleven of which are used as prisons. Experts from the Nibra, the Dutch Institute for Fire and Emergency Management (Nederlands Instituut voor Brandweer en Rampenbestrijding) say that the building would not have passed their fire regulations as the fire spread too rapidly for a fire-secure building. Nibra had carried out an inspection of the detention centre after a fire had broken out in November 2002. The institute issued recommendations, but as it does not monitor implementation it could not tell if these were followed. Mr Wevers, deputy chief of the regional fire brigade at Haarlemmermeer, denies the allegations and claims the building was safe and met Nibra standards. He added that an inspection had been carried out only last September.

Nibra, as well as the Dutch Refugee Council VluchtenigenWerk Nederland, had insisted that the cells and their doors be made fire-proof as none of the materials used in construction was fire resistant. They also wanted the introduction of a central electronic locking system so as to be able to open all doors in the event of an emergency. This was rejected by the justice ministry with the argument that a power failure would mean prisoners could escape.

The centre has three different types of detention. First, so-called foreigner detention (Vreemdelingenbewaring) where undocumented migrants, those declared "unwanted" and failed asylum seekers who are "not cooperating" in their deportation are held. There is a legal maximum period of six months for this type of detention. Secondly, the complex acts as a 'deportation centre' (uitzetcentrum), where undocumented migrants and failed asylum seekers are held to be deported in the near future. Officially they can only be held here for a few weeks, a period which according to migrant and refugee support groups is regularly extended. If deportation is unsuccessful, people are either put out on the streets or placed in foreigner detention. Finally, there is the border prison, euphemistically called "border hospitium", which holds those who are rejected entry at the border. International news reports after the fire repeated the police service's standard reply that the predominant use of the prison was to imprison "drug smugglers", referring to people held at the border who are suspected of having swallowed drugs.

The main function of these deportation prisons, however, is to facilitate the accelerated mass deportation of unsuccessful asylum applicants and undocumented migrants arrested in large-scale stop and search operations. The Ukrainian, Taras Bilyk, who died in the fire was arrested at a raid on a mushroom farm near Utrecht a few weeks earlier, for example. He was planning to marry his Polish partner whom he met in the Netherlands, who said that he was treated "like an animal" and had not been the given medical help which he had asked for. Deportation centres have their own courts and public prosecu

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