Migrant Crisis: 71 Bodies Found In Austria Lorry
Police in Austria say the bodies of 71 people, believed to be migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry found near the Hungarian border on Thursday.
The victims included 59 men, eight women and four children who are thought to have been dead for about two days.
Police said the group appeared to be migrants from Syria and probably died after suffocating in the vehicle.
Three people, thought to be Bulgarian, have been arrested in Hungary. They are said to be the owner and drivers.
Police sent to investigate the dumped lorry on the A4 motorway towards Vienna discovered the decomposing bodies on Thursday morning.
The vehicle was towed to a customs building with refrigeration facilities where forensic teams worked through the night to examine the bodies.
The group are thought to have been dead when the vehicle crossed into Austria from Hungary. Among the victims was a girl aged between one and two years old.
The local police chief said a travel document found on the vehicle suggested that the group were Syrian migrants.
“Our preliminary assumption is of course that they were refugees, possibly a group of Syrian refugees,” Hans Peter Doskozil, Burgenland province police chief, told reporters.
One of those arrested is assumed to be the owner of the vehicle, Mr Doskozil said, while it is “highly likely” the other two are “the ones who drove the vehicle”.
He said there was “an indication we are talking about a Bulgarian-Hungarian human trafficking operation”.
“If you look at the organisation of people traffickers, these are the lowest two levels of a criminal organisation,” he added.
The vehicle had the branding of a Slovakian poultry company, Hyza, on it but the firm said it no longer owned the vehicle.
Mr Doskozil said it was unusual for people smugglers to use a refrigerated vehicle.
“In our preliminary investigation we found that there was no ventilation possible through the sides of the lorry,” he said, adding that the victims had probably suffocated.
The lorry, which has Hungarian number plates, is understood to have left Budapest on Wednesday morning.
It is believed to have been parked in the lay-by between Neusiedl and Parndorf for at least 24 hours before police discovered the bodies.
Tens of thousands of migrants from conflict-hit states in the Middle East and Africa have been trying to make their way to Europe in recent months.
A record number of 107,500 migrants crossed the EU’s borders last month.
Some of them pay large sums of money to people smugglers to get them through borders illegally.
Meanwhile, migrants continue to die as they try to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean route.
Hundreds of people are feared to have died after two vessels carrying migrants sank off the coast of Libya on Thursday.