Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Fire
Detainees killed in Dutch blaze
Officials say the emergency services acted quickly
At least 11 people have died, and 15 are in hospital, after
a three-hour blaze in a detention centre at Amsterdam's
The blaze broke out soon after midnight in the centre, which
houses illegal immigrants and drug smugglers awaiting deportation
from the Netherlands.
Some of the 350 prisoners at the centre said guards were
slow to respond to their cries for help.
Police said they were looking for some detainees who may
Witnesses described flames licking from the windows of
the prefabricated complex, which is sited only yards from
one of the runways on the east side of the airport.
Our throats started hurting. We kicked, we screamed, we
rang the bell of course. And then panic broke out
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
said: "It's terrible if you hear about a fire of such
size, 11 people dead.
"Our thoughts are with the families of the victims
and the wounded."
The cause of the blaze is still unknown.
"The 11 who died were detainees," said local
Mayor Michel Bezuijen, but their nationalities and identities
were not released.
He said an independent inquiry would be set up, as well
as the regular judicial inquiry, while a European prisoners'
rights group said it would also investigate.
MPs said they wanted an inquest to look at safety issues.
Forty-three people were said to be in the wing that caught
fire, where two dozen cells held up to two people each.
There were some firefighters and police among the injured.
One detainee at the centre told Dutch radio
that guards had initially ignored their warnings of a fire
and their banging on the cell doors.
"We remained locked inside. We were shouting at the
top of our voices until we were hoarse," he said.
Speaking on Dutch television, a detainee described the
"First they said there was no problem, and they just
kept us locked up," he said.
"Our throats started hurting. We kicked, we screamed,
we rang the bell of course. And then panic broke out."
A spokesman for the prosecutors' office, Martin Bruinsma,
told AFP news agency the emergency services had acted "very
quickly", but that cell doors could only be opened
manually, one at a time.
The Dutch National Refugee Council criticised conditions
at the centre, particularly the lack of an automatic system
to open cell doors.
Some of the detainees have been transferred to other detention
centres in the Netherlands.
Helicopters were being used to search for several who are believed
to have escaped from the centre. Police said three were arrested
trying to escape.
The complex is used for people arriving by plane who are refused
entry to the Netherlands.
Hundreds of cocaine smugglers, mostly from the Netherlands Antilles
and other parts of the Caribbean, are detained at the airport
every year, along with illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
The Netherlands has one of the toughest immigration policies
in Europe, and is in the process of deporting 26,000 asylum seekers
who have been refused the right to stay.
Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, visiting the site on Thursday,
said: "It's awful. I offer my condolences to the families."