Mexico Migrant Centre Fire: ‘they Didn’t Deserve to Die This Way’


When Orlando José Maldonado Pérez sent his family in Venezuela a message a week ago on Sunday, he was upbeat and full of hope.

The 26-year-old had arrived in Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican city just across the US border from El Paso, Texas, just four days previously.

His dream was to make it to the United States, and now he felt he was close to achieving it. Excited about the prospect, he had sent his mother a voice message saying he could see the border fence.

Orlando was keen to avoid any trouble, his sister Mileyvi told the BBC. His aim was to cross into the US legally to earn a living so he could provide his six-year-old son with a better l

So mindful was he of his safety that he decided to pool the little money he had left with a couple of fellow Venezuelan migrants, to rent a room rather than stay in a hostel, where he feared there could be “aggro”.

When his family read on Tuesday morning that a deadly fire had broken out the previous night in a migrant centre in Ciudad Juárez, they did not worry at first, thinking he was safe in the room he had rented.

It was not until Wednesday morning that other relatives spotted Orlando’s name on the list the Mexican government had published of the 68 migrants who had been inside the facility at the time of the fire, and alerted his parents.

The family found out from Orlando’s friends that he had been detained by Mexican migration officials on Monday at a street corner in Ciudad Juárez, where he had been selling sweets to be able to continue paying for the room he had rented.

Under Mexican law, anyone whose migration status is irregular can be detained. Orlando was taken to a centre run by Mexico’s Migration Institute just south of the bridge on the US-Mexico border.

As well as housing offices where migrants are processed, the building also has areas where migrants are held behind a locked cell door.

It was in the men’s cell where a fire broke out on Monday night, which killed 39 of the 68 migrants inside, including Orlando.

His 32-year-old sister Mileyvi says that not only was his family in total shock at the news, but also at the way they found out about her brother’s death – from concerned relatives who spotted his name on the list of victims.

“No official, neither Venezuelan nor Mexican contacted us,” she told the BBC from the state of Táchira in Venezuela on Friday.

Mileyvi says that when she contacted the Mexican embassy in Caracas and the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico, she was asked to provide photos of her brother to aid with the identification of his body.

She says that at the time she was also not told where the body of her brother was, or what the cause of his death was.

Nor was the family offered any psychological support, she says, after they had seen video from a surveillance camera, which shows the moment the fire broke out and which has been widely circulated on social media.

Source: bbc