Fire survivors deported before testifying
7 April 2006, AMSTERDAM — The Justice Ministry went back on an agreement and expelled several survivors of the fire at Schiphol detention centre before accident investigators could interview them, it was reported on Friday.
7 April 2006
AMSTERDAM — The Justice Ministry went back on an agreement and expelled several survivors of the fire at Schiphol detention centre before accident investigators could interview them, it was reported on Friday.
National Transport Safety Board chairman Pieter van Vollenhoven, who is heading the investigation, agreed with Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner and Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk last November that no witnesses would be deported until they had been interviewed about the fire. The Justice Ministry has jurisdiction over immigration matters.
The blaze broke out in a wing housing deportees at the detention centre on 27 October 2005, killing 11 people and injuring 15. The complex was holding 350 people at the time.
Van Vollenhoven - who is the Queen's brother-in-law - told newspaper 'De Volkskrant' that questioning witnesses was now a "difficult to manage situation" because of the deportations.
"Without consulting us, they [the ministries] have expelled six people, whom I cannot now trace," he said. Another 23 detainees were deported back to their home countries or simply disappeared prior to the deal with the ministers to halt the expulsions.
Van Vollenhoven said the investigation into the Schiphol fire was more difficult than previous enquiries about incidents in the transport sector. Not only had the accident team received obscure lists of the cell inmates, the dossier of statements from the staff of the detention centre had only handed over the authorities in March. On top of this, it was proving very difficult to make agreements witnesses. So far 51 survivors have talked to the investigators.
Green-left party GroenLinks demanded that Donner and Verdonk respond to Van Vollenhoven criticism in parliament on Tuesday.
Donner expressed irritation about the suggestion the government had frustrated the investigation. Emerging from Friday's cabinet meeting, he described Van Vollenhoven's claims as "strange".
The Minister said they had spoken about the investigation two weeks ago and Van Vollenhoven had not mentioned any problems. Donner insisted all the commitments in relation to the questioning of survivors were honoured.
[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2006]
Subject: Dutch news