Friday, 28 August 2015

Update: 71 bodies of refugees found in Austria lorry

Police in Austria say the bodies of 71 people, thought to be migrants, were found in an abandoned lorry found on a motorway on Thursday.

The bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children are thought to have been dead for one-and-a-half to two days.

Police said the victims appeared to be migrants from Syria and probably died after suffocating in the vehicle.

The state of the bodies had made establishing an exact death toll difficult. Their identities were also not known, said Hans Peter Doskozil, head of police in the eastern district of Burgenland. “The deaths already occurred some time ago,” he added. “We can make no concrete assumptions about the origin or cause [of death]. We can assume, however, that they are refugees.”

Three people, thought to be Bulgarian, have been detained in Hungary. They are believed to have driven the lorry.

Police sent to investigate the dumped lorry on the A4 motorway towards Vienna discovered the decomposing bodies on Thursday morning.

The 7.5-tonne vehicle used to belong to the Slovak chicken meat company Hyza and still has the slogan “Honest chicken” on the side. The company said it sold the lorry in 2014. According to the Hungarian government, it is registered to a Romanian citizen from the central city of Kecskemét.

Road officials said on Thursday that an employee mowing the grass alerted police after noticing putrid liquid dripping from the back of the white refrigerated vehicle. Its door had been left ajar. Detectives then made the grim discovery.

Forensic teams at the scene examined the lorry, which has Hungarian number plates. Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News tweeted that the “smell of death” at the scene was overwhelming. On Thursday afternoon, police towed the vehicle to a nearby hall and began removing bodies.

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 71 victims, including four children, are thought to be from Syria.

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.

'No ventilation'

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.

Truck sightings

- Early Wednesday: Police believe the truck set off from south-east of Budapest

- 09:00 Wednesday: Truck recorded on cameras at Hegyeshalom on the Hungarian side of the border with Austria

- 05:00 or 06:00 Thursday: Truck seen parked in lay-by on A4 motorway between Neusiedl and Parndorf

- 11:30 Thursday: Austrian police open the truck and find 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.

Friday 28 August 2015


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