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Migrants Stayed Locked Up During Mexico Fire, Victim Says

Eduard Caraballo, a Venezuelan migrant, is visited by his wife Viangly Infante at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2023. (REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez)
Eduard Caraballo, a Venezuelan migrant, is visited by his wife Viangly Infante at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2023. (REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez)
Migrants Stayed Locked Up During Mexico Fire, Victim Says
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A migrant who survived a recent fire at a detention center in Mexico says his cries for help went ignored as officials kept his cell door locked.

Eduard Caraballo described the March 27 fire to reporters from Reuters. Speaking by phone from the hospital, the 26-year-old told the news agency, "We screamed for them to open the cell door, but no one helped us.”

Caraballo was held in a cell along with more than 60 other migrants at the detention center in the northern city of Ciudad Juárez. He said that as thick smoke filled the cell, the single door remained locked. Caraballo added that one by one, other migrant detainees began to die.

Forty people were killed in the fire. Experts have said it was one of the deadliest migrant disasters in recent years.

Caraballo is a migrant from Venezuela. He said he survived the fire by putting water on his clothes, covering his face and moving to the very back of his cell. He said the first thing that happened was the lights went out.

"When I saw everything begin to fill with smoke, I worried a lot about my family," he said. "My God, don't let me die," Caraballo said.

Caraballo is currently being treated at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. He and his family received humanitarian assistance and permission to enter the United States. Caraballo is receiving oxygen and has been treated for smoke inhalation.

The last thing Caraballo remembers is hearing loud screams. He explained that someone finally was able to use a "heavy object" to force open the cell door, and he was saved. "They pulled me by the hand, I think it was a firefighter, and they helped me out, others were already dead," Caraballo said.

Mexican officials say they are investigating the fire as a possible murder. Five people were arrested last week in connection with the incident. The investigation is centered on why male migrants held at the center appeared to be left in their cell while the fire burned. Women detainees were safely taken from a neighboring cell.

Officials blamed the fire on a migrant believed to have set mattresses on fire to protest an expected deportation.

A short video on social media appeared to show men kicking the bars of a locked door as their cell filled with smoke. Three people can be seen walking past without trying to open the door. Officials have said the video is part of their investigation.

Like millions of others, Caraballo and his family decided to flee Venezuela's economic and political problems. He said he is looking forward to recovering from his injuries so he can fully reunite with his family and start a new life in the United States.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

cell – n. a small room in a prison or police station where detainees are kept

lock –v. to close or keep closed using a locking device

inhalation – n. the action of breathing in air, smoke or gas into your lungs

mattress – n. the soft part of a bed that is made of a strong cloth and filled with firm material for a person to sleep on


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