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 Austria Finds Up to 50 Bodies Thought to Be of Migrants in Truck

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Join date : 2011-08-09

PostSubject: Austria Finds Up to 50 Bodies Thought to Be of Migrants in Truck   Thu Aug 27, 2015 1:04 pm

Austria Finds Up to 50 Bodies Thought to Be of Migrants in Truck


Officials on Bodies in Truck Near Vienna

Chancellors Werner Faymann of Austria and Angela Merkel of Germany expressed sorrow on Thursday after police discovered at least 20 bodies of presumed migrants piled in a truck east of Vienna.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date August 27, 2015. Photo by Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

VIENNA — The decomposing bodies of as many as 50 people assumed to be migrants being smuggled across Europe were found in a truck abandoned on a highway east of Vienna on Thursday, the police said.

The precise toll was yet to be determined, said Hans-Peter Doskozil, director of the police in the eastern state of Burgenland, during a news conference on Austria’s public broadcaster, adding that the count was hindered by the advanced state of decomposition of some of the bodies.

The discovery was made after a highway worker alerted the police around 11:40 a.m. that the truck, which had Hungarian license plates, was standing in the emergency lane of a highway that links Budapest and Vienna, in the Neusiedl am See region, near the Hungarian border. Mr. Doskozil said the truck was there since at least Wednesday.

Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said that the authorities believe the truck was part of a human trafficking operation, and that the victims “were illegal migrants who were trying to reach the West through Hungary or with the help of Hungarians.” Hungarian officials said they have assigned investigators to help the Austrians with the case.

An abandoned truck carrying the dead bodies of people assumed to be migrants was found in Austria on Thursday. Credit Roland Schlager/European Pressphoto Agency
Mr. Doskozil said the investigators would comb the cabin of the truck for clues to help them establish the identity of the driver. By afternoon, authorities said the truck had been towed from the highway to an undisclosed location where the bodies could be removed and the painstaking work of trying to identify them could begin.

“It is clear that this is a case of organized criminality where a lot of money is at stake and business is made out of human suffering,” Mr. Doskozil said.

The incident is the latest in a summer of tragedy for migrants, who have drowned at sea by the hundreds and been injured or worse in accidents during their attempts to reach safety and jobs in the European Union.

Hungary has taken a hard line with the migrants and has accelerated the building of a fence along the border with Serbia in an effort to block the flow of tens of thousands who have worked their way up the length of the Balkans in recent weeks.

The border fence has threatened to complicate and even cut off what has become an increasingly accessible route for the migrants, many of whom are fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

In recent interviews, humanitarian aid workers and the migrants themselves said the fence would not stop the migrants but would force them to find other ways to make it to wealthy European Union countries farther north, often with the help of human traffickers.

The grisly discovery coincided with the start of a conference in Vienna on how to make the Balkans more secure and prosperous, partly as a means to stop the flight of thousands seeking better economic conditions in Austria, Germany and other more wealthy parts of the European Union.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Balkan heads of government are attending the conference.

Ms. Merkel and Chancellor Werner Faymann of Austria expressed sorrow over the deaths and said they were a chilling reminder of the need to give shelter to migrants fleeing war.

“We are all shaken by this terrible news that up to 50 people have lost their lives because they got into a situation where smugglers did not care about their lives,” Ms. Merkel said.

“Such a tragic death,” she added, emphasizing the need for Europe to pull together and ease the crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II.

In his remarks, Mr. Faymann said, “This shows once more how necessary it is to save lives and to fight people smugglers.”

He said, “Those who look back to World War II history know that there were people who depended then on asylum” to survive. Today, too, “it saves lives,” he added.

Gerald Tatzgern, who leads an Austrian police team responsible for fighting human trafficking, said that the police had secured the site where the truck was found. But he said it would take several days for forensics teams to sift through the evidence and potentially learn more about the identities of those found dead.

Images in the Austrian news media showed a white vehicle with a rear cooler compartment, emblazoned with the word “Hyza” in brown letters, with a chicken standing in for the letter Y, surrounded by police cars parked at the side of the freeway.

OPEN Multimedia Feature

A Slovakia-based company by the name of Hyza told the Austrian news agency APA that it had sold more than a dozen of its vehicles in 2014 but that it had no further knowledge about them.

Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, called it a “dark day” and urged everyone across the 28-nation European Union to move harshly against human traffickers.

“These are not well-minded helpers,” she said. “They are not concerned with the welfare of the migrants. They care only about profit.”

Austria’s justice ministry said Thursday some 278 people have been detained on charges of attempting to smuggle illegal migrants into the country.

The discovery of the truck not only threatened to overshadow the conference but also highlighted the continuing divides and dysfunction of the European Union in handling a migration crisis that is straining resources.

Ms. Mogherini gave the strongest voice to Europe’s need to act to stop such deaths, “moving from the blame game to real cooperation.”

There is “no magic solution,” she said, “but the road we can follow to start making things work is very well known.”

“We understand very well that we cannot continue like this — with a moment of silence every time we see someone dying,” she said.
Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin, and Palko Karasz contributed reporting from London.

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