The bodies of 71 individuals, presumably asylum seekers, were found yesterday in the cargo container of a truck abandoned along the A4 highway in Austria. Law enforcement officials attribute the deaths to suffocation and say the people had been dead for approximately one and a half days, reports Hungarian news site Index.hu.
The truck, which had been parked along the highway since Wednesday (some thirty kilometers from the Hungarian border), had Hungarian license plates. The vehicle was later discovered to be owned by a Hungarian company.
Witnesses notified the police because of a strange fluid leaking from the vehicle and an awful smell coming from inside.
Hungary’s Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister, János Lázár, said Hungarian authorities had determined that the vehicle was being used by a Romanian citizen. Romania’s foreign ministry says no Romanians were involved in the incident.
Austrian law enforcement officials have also said the truck may have been in transit from Hungary before being abandoned by its driver.
Hungarian investigators are working together with Austrian law enforcement officials to investigate the terrible incident.
On Friday morning Austrian news outlet Kronen Zeitung reported that investigators had detained suspected human smugglers in connection to the deaths. The search led investigators to Hungary where seven individuals were apprehended by the police.
Media reports initially claimed that about thirty bodies were found in the back of the truck. The number was later raised to 71, including four children.
Hans Peter Doskozil, a Burgenland, Austria, police department official, said on Thursday that the time of death indicates the victims may have died in Hungary.
A Burgenland police department spokesperson called the awful scene “a horrible crime”.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner called it a tragedy that has shaken everyone. She called human smugglers “criminals who are not concerned with the philanthropy of helping refugees and only interested in making profit.”
Lázár said Hungarian authorities would pay increased attention to trucks and transportation vans traveling toward the Austrian border to make sure human smugglers are not transporting asylum seekers.
News of this shocking find is yet another sign that the European Union (and its Member States) desperately needs to address the safety and security of asylum seekers entering the EU.
Hungarian officials have been waging a public campaign against asylum seekers for months, calling them “illegal immigrants” and linking their arrival in Europe with terrorism. However, this latest tragedy serves as a reminder of the hardships asylum seekers endure as they seek security within Europe’s borders.