Three dead in blaze at Spanish warehouse squat housing migrants

A fire ripped through a warehouse occupied by migrants near Barcelona killing at least two people and injuring 17, Spanish officials said Thursday.

Three dead in blaze at Spanish warehouse squat housing migrants
Photo: @bomberscat

The blaze broke out at around 9:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Wednesday in an industrial area of Badalona, a Barcelona suburb, where up to 200 migrants lived in squalid conditions, according to Badalona city hall.

Firefighters backed by sniffer dogs and drones had so far found two bodies outside the three-story building and one corpse on the last floor, fire chief David Borrell told reporters at the scene.

“Right now we cannot rule out finding more bodies,” he added.   

Some parts of the warehouse were too dangerous for firefighters to search because of the extent of the structural damage suffered and instead a specialised crew will have to be deployed there, Borrell said.

At least 19 people were injured, including seven seriously, Catalonia's civil protection agency said in a tweet.

Some people were hurt after jumping from the building, regional health minister Alba Verges said.   

The blaze has been brought under control but on Thursday morning over 12 hours since it broke out plumes of smoke escaped from the building's windows.    

The walls were blackened and the smell of burning debris could be felt from blocks away.


'Heard screaming'

Most of the residents were living in Spain without permission, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, and live by selling goods on the street or collecting scrap metal, neighbours and residents of the building said.

The warehouse had no running water and suffered frequent power cuts, they added.

“I think people were left inside. There are many of us, some were already asleep, on the terrace or the roof,” Seydou Camara, who is in his 30s and came to Spain from Senegal three years ago, told AFP.   

The power went out just before 9 pm and while residents tried to fix the problem a candle accidentally set fire to a mattress.   

“I was on the terrace on the last floor. I came inside when I heard screaming. I almost couldn't breathe and could see hardly anything because there was no light,” Camara said.

Catalonia regional interior minister Miquel Samper said the authorities will investigate if the fire was “fortuitous or intentional”.    

Badalona's conservative mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol said the authorities had accounted for 60 people “but many escaped through the back windows and fled. Maybe more than one hundred people left.”

The warehouse has been occupied for at least eight years and the authorities had tried several times to remove the squatters, he added. 

'Economic misery'

Camara, who entered Spain illegally by boat three years ago, said he could not obtain a work contract that would allow him to rent a place to live because he does not have residency papers.

“Nobody wants to live like this. We all want to rent a flat, pay social security. But if you don't have papers, how can you rent a flat?” he asked.    

Catalonia's interim regional leader Pere Aragones said housing assistance would be offered to those who lived in the warehouse.    

“This is a tragedy which comes on top of the economic misery which unfortunately many of the affected people faced,” he said during an interview with Spanish public television TVE.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he was following the news “of the tragic fire in Badalona with concern”.


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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.