Yeosu Immigration Detention Center Fire

Well, a fire yesterday at an Immigration Detention Facility in Yeosu killed nine people being held there, and severely injured eighteen more yesterday, reports the Korea Herald. Most of those being held were apparently Chinese, and there are some accusations that the number of casualties is higher than it should have been because officials didn’t release the detained foreigners quickly enough, and because fire safety precautions were substandard, both in terms of the materials used in the beds in the cells, and the fire-responsive security system:

The nine deaths occurred in the closed rooms filled with toxic fumes from the burning mattress which were made with urethane. Urethane emits toxic gas when it burns. Iron bars blocked any escape through windows.

Neither the fire alarm nor the sprinkler system operated during the blaze, and the language barrier with immigrants caused much confusion, said officials who were present at the scene.

Built in 2005, the immigration office did not conduct thorough inspections on its fire prevention system over the past two years. The immigration office also received a warning from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2005 for maltreatment of detained immigrants.

It’s suspected that this was a case of arson by one of the Chinese inmates, probably started in hopes of escaping what are described in the article as pretty terrible conditions for inmates. Given that a lot of people are held in these facilities with no real recourse to get home, it’s not surprising, and one can almost — almost — understand why someone would do something as desprerate as start a fire hoping for a chance to run away.

I just hope this doesn’t turn out to be like the Daegu subway incident, where the driver left the doors shut and ran away, trapping people inside to choke to death on deadly fumes. That would be awful. It’s a terrifying thought, being locked in to die, because someone didn’t think to let you out in an emergency situation… or because someone wasn’t properly trained to respond to an emergency.

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