AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A fire roared through a prison complex at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (search) on Thursday, killing 11 illegal immigrants awaiting deportation and injuring 15 other people.
The nationalities of the dead were not immediately known.
"They were illegal aliens waiting to be extradited to their countries of origin," said Immigration Service spokesman Martin Bruinsma. "We are still busy trying to confirm their identities."
The cause of the fire was being investigated, said border police spokesman Rob Stenakker. Officials declined to comment on reports that one of the prisoners may have set the fire and that the cells were unsafe.
Several members of the Dutch parliament called for an independent investigation into whether the prison complex complied with safety standards.
The prison block on the east side of Europe's fourth-largest airport is surrounded by a 10-foot fence and barbed wire. Set up in 2002, it is used to detain people who arrive by plane and have been refused entry to the Netherlands, including drug smugglers and failed asylum seekers.
An unknown number of detainees escaped during the blaze, but three were captured.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight and raged until 3 a.m. Firefighters and airport police were among the injured, according to news reports. Four people were hospitalized.
"It's terrible if you hear about a fire of such size, 11 people dead," Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende (search) told reporters in London, where he was to attend a European Union summit. "Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the wounded."
A prisoner told the Dutch television station NOS that guards initially did not take prisoners' warnings of a fire seriously and told them nothing was wrong.
"They didn't open the door. They kept us locked up. Our throats started hurting. We were kicking and screaming," said the detainee, who was not identified.
About 350 prisoners were being held in the complex when the fire broke out. Some 43 were in the wing that caught fire. Prisoners were taken to other facilities in nearby cities or moved elsewhere within the complex, Dutch media reported.
Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis said the blaze and several other recent fires that killed immigrants in France "should serve as a warning of the hazardous situation affecting migrants in many of the Council of Europe member states.
"We must never forget that the bottom line of our migration policies and procedures must be respect for human rights, human dignity and the physical and mental integrity of the persons involved," he said.
The Netherlands (search), which has adopted one of the toughest immigration policies in Europe, is in the process of deporting some 26,000 asylum seekers who have been denied Dutch residency. Rights groups have criticized the policy, saying people have been deported to countries where they could face persecution or abuse.
Hundreds of cocaine smugglers, mostly from the Caribbean and Curacao (search), are detained at the airport every year, as are immigrants caught trying to enter the country illegally. Prison cell capacity was greatly expanded in 2002.