The head of Mexico’s immigration agency will face criminal charges for a fire that killed 40 migrants in a locked cell at a detention centre near the border with the US.

In a statement, the federal Attorney General’s Office said National Immigration Institute head Francisco Garduno was criminally remiss in not preventing the fire, despite earlier incidents showing the situation at the country’s migrant detention centres needed correcting.

Prosecutors said the case showed a “pattern of irresponsibility,” with their statement released just hours after Mexico’s president said two guards seen fleeing when the fire broke out did not have keys to the cell door.

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Guards appear to abandon migrants during fire

Several other officers of the agency will also face charges for failing to carry out their duties, the statement said, but prosecutors did not explain what specific charges or identify the officials.

The fire at the facility in Ciudad Juarez, near El Paso in Texas last month came after a migrant allegedly set fire to foam mattresses in protest against what he apparently thought were plans to move or deport the migrants.

A video from a security camera inside the facility shows guards walking away when the fire inside the cell holding migrants.

The guards are seen hurrying away as smoke fills the facility, and did not appear to make any effort to release the migrants.

An additional 11 Guatemalans were injured in the fire.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said: “The door was closed because the person who had the keys wasn’t there.”

It was unclear what effect the president’s comments might have on the trial of the guards, who were detained previously over the fire.

Three Mexican immigration officials, a guard and a Venezuelan migrant are being held for investigation in connection with the fire. They face homicide charges.

The migrant allegedly set fire to foam mattresses at the detention centre to protest what he apparently thought were plans to move or deport the migrants.

So far, 31 bodies have been returned to their home countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Prosecutors said that after a fire at another detention centre in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco killed one person and injured 14 in 2020, the immigration agency knew there were problems which needed to be corrected – but alleged they failed to act.

Mr Garduno could not be immediately contacted for comment.

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