Statewatch article: RefNo# 28045
Netherlands: Schiphol fire: Victim sent to jail
Statewatch News Online, August 2007
The fire in the immigration detention centre at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam on the night of 26 to 27 October 2005, killing 11 people and injuring 15, shocked the general public and sparked anger and outrage at then immigration minister Rita Verdonk. Posters and banners appeared all over the country accusing Verdonk, known for her hard-line stance against immigration and her support for cultural assimilation policies, to have "blood on her hands". An independent investigation was launched as authorities stood accused of failing to follow fire regulations in the prison complex, and it concluded in September 2006 that the Ministry of Justice and construction indeed were responsible for severe fire precaution failings, leading to the resignation of two ministers. Former Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, however, immediately found his position in the new government as minister for social affairs.

Despite the findings, in June 2007, the courts made two surprising decisions: despite the fact that an independent investigation revealed firstly, that the exact cause of the fire could not established, and secondly, that if the authorities had followed fire regulations, less people or no one at all would have died in the fire, they found a victim of the fire guilty. 24 year-old Libyan asylum seeker Ahmed Isa Al-Jabali, who suffered severe burns and post-traumatic stress, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for having thrown a cigarette bud on his mattress. Ahmed Isa has not been released since he experienced the fire and witnessed the deaths of his fellow detainees. One month later, on 4 July, the preliminary investigation testing the authorities' responsibility for the deaths was stopped by the public prosecution so that no official will be held responsible for the deaths at Schiphol.

Investigation report holds authorities responsible

Prof. Pieter van Vollenhoven, who led the first investigation by the Council for Public Safety (Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid), says about the final report, published in September 2006: "These are hard conclusions. The Council is aware of this. But they do justice to all those who were involved in the fire and to the families who lost their loved ones and who suffered and are still suffering from this catastrophe". The reports holds the Authority for Judicial Institutions (Dienst JustitiŽle Inrichtingen) responsible, which falls under remits of then Justice minister Piet Hein Donner, responsible for the fire safety situation at Schiphol. Next to the judicial authorities, the building authority (Rijksgebouwendienst) under the remits of then minister Sybilla Dekker (VVD, Ministry of Environment and Construction, VROM) and the municipality Haarlemmermeer, which issues permits and is responsible for the fire service at Schiphol airport, were found co-responsible for the fire. When the results of the investigation became known in September 2006, both Dekker and Donner resigned from office, admitting to their responsibility in the affair.

The report found that the cause of the fire cannot be concluded with certainty but suspects that it was a cigarette bud thrown away whilst it was still burning. The fire spread so quickly because there was inflammable material in the cells and because a cell door was left open, creating wind and heavy smoke. All victims died of carbon-monoxide poisoning, ten of the eleven victims died between 00.10 and 00.30. The Ministry of Justice, so the report, failed in its care tasks as the chief responsible authority. More specifically, the director of the prison complex did not receive sufficient orders, and the director himself carried out his responsibilities inadequately. The risks of a fire were insufficiently researched, leading to the staff being insufficiently trained for the event of fire. The fire service arrived after 25 minutes, whereas the norm is 15 minutes, because the fire alarm did not work properly and because the containers were inaccessib

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