Death Toll in Austrian Migrant Truck Climbs to 71 (Video)
Death Toll in Austrian Migrant Truck Climbs to 71 (Video)

Death Toll in Austrian Migrant Truck Climbs to 71 (Video)

The number of migrants found dead in a truck abandoned on Austria’s main highway to Hungary has risen to 71, the Interior Ministry said Friday, as police confirmed three suspects had been arrested over the deaths.

At a press conference, Austrian authorities said they believed the victims were Syrian refuges and confirmed Hungarian police had arrested seven men and still had three in custody, two Bulgarian nationals and one carrying a Hungarian ID card.

“We are fairly confident that … they are part of a Hungarian-Bulgarian trafficking ring,” said Mr Hans-Peter Doskozil of the Austrian police.

While an examination of the vehicle was ongoing, he said it was “quite likely like that the people suffocated in the truck”.

Given the 3,000 trucks that travel the A4 motorway each day between Hungary and Austria, police say it is not possible to do anything but spot checks on what they admit is an “intensively-used trafficking route”.

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner praised the rapid arrests as proof of effective cross-border police co-operation.

She said it was important that EU member states find legal ways for refugees to leave warzones for Europe. She also called on the EU to help refugees remain in their homes by tackling at their roots the causes of the refugee crisis.

She also called for greater international co-operation and a “zero tolerance approach to trafficking”.

“Austria does not plan to impose strict border controls, what we are doing are border area controls,” she said. “I take a dim view of (inner EU) border controls, it’s far more important to secure the outer EU border and to set up secure reception centres where we can differentiate quickly between war refugees and migrants for economic reasons.”

Police suspect the refugees in the back of the seven-and-half tonne truck were already dead as they were driven into Austria as early as Tuesday.

Romanian traffickers are suspected of being behind the tragedy, after abandoning the truck with Hungarian licence plates on the A4 motorway near the Hungarian border and 50kms from Vienna.

The motorway is a popular overland route for traffickers bringing refugees from the Balkans into central and northern Europe.

The truck was discovered at 11.30am on Thursday by a passing patrol car. The officers said it was impossible to give an initial estimate of the victims, or their origin, because the bodies were already in an advanced state of decomposition.

“The officer who arrived noticed the truck was dripping,” said Mr Doskozil. “We can gather that death occurred sometime before . . . but this point we can offer no further concrete details as to how the death occurred.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel, attending a conference in nearby Vienna, said she was “shaken” by a tragedy which showed how urgently the European Union needed a new agreement for a fairer distribution of refugees across member states.

“We have more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II,” she said. “The eyes of the world are upon us.”

Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, urged the EU to step up its efforts to crack down on traffickers who she said were “not interested in the welfare of refugees but maximum profit”.

After a conference in Vienna with Balkan leaders, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann said the EU needed to deal as seriously with the refugee crisis as the recent financial and economic crisis.

He criticised as “the wrong path” Hungary’s decision to erect a razor-wire fence on its outer EU border with Serbia.

Austria announced it would step up checks on border routes and on trains.
It has had 80,000 asylum applications this year, a new record, while Germany expects 10 times that number.

To other EU member states which are refusing to accept more refugees or binding asylum-seeker quotas, Dr Merkel said: “Don’t doubt our determination.”

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic criticised the EU for leaving his country and its Balkan neighbours to “bear the brunt of the burden”.


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