Mexican prosecutors have announced a murder investigation into the deaths of 39 migrants in a detention centre fire, accusing the people in charge of doing nothing to help them escape.
Authorities faced mounting scrutiny of their handling of the disaster after video surveillance footage appeared to show guards leaving as flames engulfed a cell with migrants locked inside.
An investigation was opened “for the crime of homicide and damage to property,” though other possible crimes would also be considered, said Sara Irene Herrerias, a prosecutor specialising in human rights.
“None of the public servants or the private security personnel took any action to open the door for the migrants who were inside,” she told reporters.
Eight people had been identified as allegedly responsible for the failure following the fire that began late Monday, Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said at the same news conference.
Those include two federal agents and a state immigration official, as well as five members of a private security company.
Prosecutors were seeking several arrest warrants, Ms Herrerias said.
Migrant accused of starting the fire
A migrant had been accused of starting the fire by others who were inside the detention center, she added, without giving details about the person.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador earlier vowed there would be “no impunity” over the tragedy in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, in the US state of Texas.
“We will not hide anything,” he told reporters.
Those found to have been responsible for “causing this painful tragedy will be punished in conformity with the law,” he added.
Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that the migrants were believed to have started the fire themselves in a protest against deportations.
In the video, whose authenticity was confirmed by the government, three guards seem to hurry away leaving migrants in their cell as flames spread and smoke rapidly fills the building.
El Salvador, which said some of its citizens were seriously injured, demanded the people running the facility be punished since the video showed migrants “were left inside the cells without any chance of getting to safety”.
Dozens of migrants spent the night outside the National Migration Institute (INM) facility in Ciudad Juarez waiting for information about their relatives and friends.
“We want to know if they were in there or not,” said Venezuelan Gilbert Zabaleta, who was looking for two friends.
The dead and 27 injured included people from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador, Mexican authorities said.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has been hoping to stem the record tide of migrants and asylum seekers undertaking often dangerous journeys organised by smugglers to get to the United States.
About 200,000 people try to cross the border from Mexico each month, most of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central and South America.