Dozens of refugees were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning after Croatian police discovered 62 people in an overloaded van. Several of the migrants were unconscious, according to Croatia's national broadcaster.
Croatian police have intercepted a van carrying scores of migrants, with many having to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, state media reported on Sunday.
The police noticed the vehicle was trailing smoke at a highway near Novska, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital, Zagreb. Upon pulling the van over, the officials discovered 62 migrants in the crowded cargo area, most of whom required medical attention, Croatia's state HTV reported.
However, the driver, who is suspected to be also the people smuggler involved, managed to escape into the fields. He remains at large.
"The passengers had inhaled carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless toxic gas, which caused their medical condition to deteriorate and some of them to lose consciousness," Croatian emergency medical care chief Maja Grba Buljevic told HRT.
"They were in serious danger, but they started recovering once they were in the fresh air."
Balkan route going strong
At least three children were hospitalized after the incident, along with dozens of adults, according to doctors at a nearby Novska hospital. The patients were also suffering from exhaustion, hunger and hypothermia, the doctors said, but their condition was not considered critical.
The overloaded van likely entered Croatia from Serbia and was continuing on toward Slovenia, and then Austria and Germany. Although the so-called Balkan route has been officially closed for months, people smugglers still charge thousands of euros to transport migrants across the region in vans and trucks.
Last year, authorities in Austria discovered 71 dead migrants in an abandoned truck. The people suffocated to death after smugglers from Bulgaria and Afghanistan prevented them from opening doors on the vehicle.
dj/tj (AP, dpa)