Is Europe’s migrant problem spiralling out of control? Quite possibly.
According to reports, the bodies of at least 20 migrants - and potentially as many as 50 - have been found inside the back of a truck parked on the shoulder of the main highway from Budapest to Vienna in eastern Austria.
The decomposing bodies - the refugees, who appeared to have suffocated, are believed to have died before they entered Austria, police said - were discovered Thursday morning on Austria’s A4 highway near Parndorf.
The Guardian reports that Hans Peter Doskozil, head of police in the district of Burgenland, confirmed the 20-plus-strong body count but indicated that the death toll could rise to 40 or 50 as the condition of the corpses has led to difficulties in establishing a definitive count.
“The deaths already occurred some time ago,” the police chief was quoted by the Guardian as saying. “We can make no concrete assumptions about the origin or cause [of death]. We can assume, however, that they are refugees.”
Reporting from the scene, UK-based Channel 4 News’ International Editor Lindsey Hilsum tweeted that the smell of decomposing bodies was overpowering:
Just drove past truck on A4 in Austria with 50 dead refugees inside. Terrible smell of death as we passed. pic.twitter.com/a2AiDnsy5V— Lindsey Hilsum (@lindseyhilsum) August 27, 2015
Hilsum also tweeted about the emerging police and forensic presence on the Austrian highway:
Austrian forensic team at truck of dead refugees. What a terrible, necessary, heartbreaking job. pic.twitter.com/C83ShUJAQL— Lindsey Hilsum (@lindseyhilsum) August 27, 2015
The news of the shocking find reportedly broke after Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann had just finished urging other European leaders of the imminent need to crack down on human traffickers.
The Associated Press reports that Faymann told those attending the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna Thursday that the tragic discovery was a perfect example of the urgent need for quick solutions to handle the wave of migrants swarming into Europe.
“Today refugees lost the lives they had tried to save by escaping, but lost them in the hand of traffickers,” he said.
Reportedly shaken by the news, German chancellor Angela Merkel, attending the summit on Europe’s migrant crisis, said: “This reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find solutions in the spirit of solidarity.”
Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, released a statement quickly condemning the perpetrators of human smuggling.
Denouncing the activities of the mafia gangs commonly involved in human trafficking, she said: “Human smugglers are criminals. Those who still think that they are gentle helpers of refugees are beyond saving.”
Local media reports suggest the truck, apparently abandoned Wednesday with its back door left open, was first spotted by a road worker who alerted police after noticing blood dripping from the back of the vehicle. Detectives then made the chilling discovery.
The 7.5-tonne truck, which, according to the Guardian, used to belong to Slovak meat company Hyza before being sold in 2014, is currently registered to someone from the central-Hungarian city of Kecskemét. Although the new owners did not remove the truck’s logos as required, Hyza has reportedly stressed that the company has nothing to do with the truck now.
Police have launched a manhunt for the driver.
With wars raging in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the heavy influx of refugees and asylum seekers has placed an increasingly large burden on European nations - and many are struggling to cope.
According to the BBC, the number of migrants arriving at the EU’s borders skyrocketed to a record high of 107,500 last month.
Warsaw-based EU border agency Frontex said in a statement that the above figure for July was the “third consecutive monthly record, jumping well past the previous high of more than 70,000 reached in June.”
Making it a target for migrants seeking to enter the EU, Hungary’s southern border marks the outermost boundary of the EU’s so-called Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
Since 1985, the 26-nation Schengen Agreement, of which Britain and Ireland are not signatories, however, has seen the abolition of border checks between member nations and has facilitated the free movement of people within continental Europe.
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