Terrified by the scale of the tragedy, the United States on Tuesday sought to understand how about fifty migrants, half Mexicans, had died in an abandoned truck in scorching temperatures in the vast state of Texas.
The gruesome discovery took place Monday night in the city of San Antonio when a city worker heard a call for help and opened the trailer door, Police Chief William McManus said.
Rescuers then found 46 bodies and sixteen “conscious” people, including four children, who were transferred to nearby hospitals, Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
After a day marked by temperatures close to 40 degrees, “patients were hot to the touch, suffering from heatstroke, exhaustion”, he added during a press conference.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador assured on Tuesday that the death toll had risen to 50, including “22 from Mexico, seven from Guatemala, two from Honduras”. “It’s a huge accident,” he remarked.
His US counterpart, who has just arrived in Madrid for a NATO summit, has not yet responded. But Joe Biden “follows the absolutely awful news very closely” from Texas, said his spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre.
– Three arrests –
The opposition immediately seized on the drama, one of the worst in immigration issues in American history, to attack the Democratic president.
“These deaths must be blamed on Biden. They are the result of his deadly policy of open borders,” attacked Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
“Human traffickers are exploiting our open borders and the most vulnerable are paying with their lives,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz said.
Slowly during the pandemic, migrant arrivals rose sharply following the election of Joe Biden, and the city of San Antonio, located 240 km from the border, is an important stopover before continuing its journey to the northern United States.
The city’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg, lamented “a terrible tragedy” and “hoped that those responsible for putting these people under such inhumane conditions would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.
Three people were arrested, according to the police chief. But “we do not know if they are related to this or not,” William McManus said.
A federal investigation has been opened for “suspected human trafficking”, the Department of Homeland Security announced.
Border guards are taking part in the investigations, said their boss Chris Magnus, for whom the tragedy illustrates “the despair of migrants who are ready to put their lives in the hands of insensitive smugglers”.
About 60 firefighters have been mobilized to take care of the remains and will receive psychological support, their leader said.
– “Pain” –
Trucks like the one found in San Antonio are a means of transportation often used by migrants who want to enter the United States. Such a trip is extremely dangerous, especially as these vehicles rarely have air conditioning and their passengers quickly run out of water.
By July 2017, a similar tragedy had struck the spirits: ten migrants had died in an overheated trailer parked in a supermarket parking lot near San Antonio.
At the time, immigration services said the temperature in the trailer, where dozens of migrants had taken place, could have risen to 65 ° C. The driver of the truck had been sentenced to life in prison.
Pope Francis on Tuesday expressed his “pain” over this “tragedy”, which he compared to the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Morocco, where at least 23 migrants perished on Friday.
The UN said it was “deeply concerned”.
“This is not the first tragedy of its kind, and it once again illustrates the crucial need for secure legal channels for migration,” said a spokeswoman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina, from Geneva. Shamdasani.