Remember the Schiphol Fire

Mustapha Mujahid, Cheikh Papa Sakho and Jo van der Spek gave a presentation about the Schiphol Fire in the BAK,  Basis voor Aktuele Kunst in Utrecht, October 2018. In English.

In the video registration below, we start at 31.37

Propositions #7/3: Testify – Ana Naomi de Sousa and Migrant 2 Migrant Foundation

The next commemoration

On Friday the 26th of October 2018, the Schiphol People will commemorate the Schiphol Fire of 2005.

This fire in detention complex Schiphol Oost killed 11 illegalized migrants, and destroyed the lives of many survivors. STOP DETENTION of illegalized migrants.

We come together with friends from the Haarlemmermeer at the monument at Schiphol Oost at 7 p.m.

The Fire

The disaster  known as the Schiphol Fire took place in the night of October 26th 2005. At the eastern end of the airport stood a detention complex. The fire took place in Block K, where migrants were being held for administrative reasons: they were either undocumented or had exhausted the legal means to obtain a residence permit, e.g. as asylum seeker These people were not charged with any crime or trespassing, they were being detained solely to be returned to their country of origin. As a result of the fire eleven of them died of suffocation, some 15 were injured and many of the survivors were traumatized. The exact origin of the fire has yet to be established beyond reasonable doubt. So far, only one man has been indicted and convicted to three years.His name is Ahmed Isa, he came from Libya and nearly died in the very fire that he is supposed to have caused.  In reality he is the first victim in many ways: he got burnt himself when he tried to extinguish the fire in his cell. Then he was detained and isolated. It is a classical case of blaming the victim, scapegoating and denial of truth and justice. Ahmed Issa was finally acquitted in 2010.

One reason why the fire could so easily spread and kill so many detainees, was that it was a temporary facility . It was constructed by assembling rows of sea containers and putting a roof over them.  The argument for  overlooking most regulations on safety and construction was that people would be detained here only for short periods, so there was no need to invest in facilities that are standard in regular prisons. And it was  both a fast and cheap way to solve a political problem. The building itself is even against the law, but allowed by decree of Minister of Justice Donner!

You,step back, or I will shoot you through the head

The marechaussee (military policeman) barks his words in my face. Before I realize it, I am looking in the barrel of a shotgun. The eyes of the man are sharp and I freeze of fear.  Many of us have been released on time from our cells, but we are not complete yet. I hear the shouting and the howling of the people who are stuck inside. I hear the bonking of their powerless fists on the cell doors.

I have to  go back. No man must die in here. All of a sudden the woman from Ukraine comes to my mind, I think back to last Wednesday. I saw her then in the recreation room. In tears, taking leave from her husband.That image grabs me at my throat. She is stick in there, but this woman has to come out. I don’t want her to die. It cannot happen. I want to go to her.

“The woman in cel 14, we must save her”, I shout to the others.But I don’t get a chance. Before I know, a weapon is pulled and pointed at me. Within half an hour I am looking deat in the eye twice. I fled out of a burning cell and now I am about to be shot dead. Only because I want to save somebody’s life.Hello Everyone,

We commemorated the fire and the dead. On the 26th at the monument on Schiphol Oost, and on the 28th of October in Casa Migrante in de Pijp in Amsterdam.

These words of Chafik Chnachi are the preface of his book #Alarmbellen, published in 2016. The book is available in Dutch for 20 Euro’s.

Omslag Alarmbellen


The location of the prison is only visible on the left photo as a light spot of bare land. The monument is the small dark oval on the left of it. On the right the detention complex as it was.


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