Ministers lay flowers at Schiphol fire site

Integration minister Rita Verdonk and justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin this morning laid flowers in memory of the 11 people who died in last year’s fire at Schiphol deportation centre.

Supporters and friends of the victims held their own separate ceremony close by. The fire swept through one wing of a cell complex where people awaiting deportation were being held exactly a year ago. There was a minute’s silence after the wreath-laying ceremony which was attended by officials and members of the military police force.
Meanwhile, supporters and friends of the victims held their own wake outside the cell complex from Thursday night to Friday morning. Organiser Jo van der Spek told reporters that the official commemoration had been arranged a ‘bit sneakily’. The fact that ministers would be present was only announced this week, she said.
On Friday demonstrators carried placards condemning Verdonk’s appearance at the ceremony. The minister has been heavily criticised for saying the authorities had acted ‘adequately’ after the fire and for her tough line on deportations. Verdonk has since granted residency to a number of people involved in the fire.
The official investigation into the blaze revealed a string of errors in the construction of the centre and concluded that there would have been fewer or even no deaths if safety standards had been followed. Two ministers resigned as a result. Since then, the government has announced a review of fire safety at all the country’s prisons.

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