TWO children from a family of refugees were killed early Tuesday in a fire that destroyed an abandoned bank squatted by migrants in the centre of Barcelona.
A four-month-old baby, his three-year-old brother and their parents died when a blaze ripped through the building in the Plaza de Tetuan at about 6am.
Eight fire crews raced to battle the flames but fire chief Angel Lopez said that ‘they couldn’t save’ the family of four trapped inside.
The family members were located inside the burning building but had inhaled too much smoke despite attempts by EMS ambulances to resuscitate them.
A further four people were taken to hospital to receive treatment for smoke inhalation.
“There are no words to describe the horror of the death of these four people, including two small children. This is something that should never happen, it is horrible news,” said Ada Colau, Barcelona’s mayor, to the press after visiting the scene of the fire on Tuesday, November 30.
Police had been called to the squat over a dispute hours before the fire broke out. However, according to the regional interior minister Joan Ignasi Elena, ‘there was no immediate evidence [the call out] was related to the blaze’.
The parents of the two boys, a 40-year-old man and his 39-year-old wife, reportedly survived in the city by collecting scrap metal.
Dad Nasar Iqbal is reported to have come originally from Pakistan and his wife Julietta was from Romania. The pair had been living in Catalunya for ten years and their three-year-old was attending school in the city.
The city authorities had been supporting the family since August 2020 and social services had visited the family a total of 88 times.
During the last year, social services had made periodic visits to see the family, providing food and offering pediatric services to the baby. The family also received specific financial aid for diapers, pharmacy and transportation.
“We had a good bond with the family,”said the Deputy Mayor for Social Rights, Laura Perez. “It was not a family that proactively approached social services but rather it was social services that approached them.”
Mayor Ada Colau praised the work of social services but said that the property ‘did not have the conditions to be a home’.
She added: “It was not a house, it was a bank office. What is clear is that the place did not have the conditions of a home.”
However, social services did not provide any alternative housing solutions to the family.
The authorities had inspected the premises on October 18 and concluded that although the family may be living in poor conditions, the overall premises posed ‘no imminent risk and that the housing conditions were not structurally compromised’.
They also added that they had been working hard to gain the deceased family’s trust ‘little by little’ to ensure that the children were safe and well-looked after.
“The building was analysed and it was found that there was no imminent risk for the lodgers,” said the Deputy Mayor for Social Rights.
“It was checked that the switches, ventilation and electricity supply were working.
“The family kept the premises in the best conditions. It is substandard housing and they are not the conditions to live, but the alternative that we could offer was a temporary relocation but for the parents who collect scrap metal, it did not suit them.”
An elderly neighbor told AFP that he had often been awoken at night because of shouts and the sounds of fighting coming from inside the squat.
Josep Iganci Homs told AFP reporters that in his opinion, ‘the authorities and the courts should have removed the children from here because look how it all ended.’
People living in a flat above which was not affected by the fire, told AFP they could hear the ‘family screaming for help’. Neighbour Miquel Giumera told AFP that his wife had “smelled something burning.”
Guimera said that the family appeared to have been locked in the squat and that hearing the screams was ‘quite traumatic’.
He added the family appeared to have been living there for two or three years. “It’s a real shame about those two little children,” Guimera added.
He also told Euronews that he had heard a ‘brawl’ break out in the building at about 2am a few hours before he called the fire brigade.