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Austria confirms arrests in migrant truck case

August 28, 2015

Four people have been arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants in Austria. The victims were found in a poultry van on a highway near the borders with Slovakia and Hungary.

Truck being searched in Austria following the discovery of 71 dead migrants
Image: Reuters/H.P. Bader

At a press conference on Friday morning in the eastern Austrian city of Eisenstadt, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said 71 people had died in the vehicle.

Among the victims were "59 men, eight women and four children including a young girl one or two years old," police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil said.

Syrian travel documents were also found in the truck, suggesting that the group were "likely" Syrians.

Doskozil said the case was been treated as a homicide.

"As to the cause of death, we cannot give any concrete information. No fresh air could get into the load area. Whether any measures were made to allow air into the truck remains unknown," Doskozil told reporters.

"It is likely that they suffocated," he added.

Abandoned on the Autobahn

The vehicle found on Austria's A4 Autobahn on Thursday had the markings of a Slovakian poultry company but Hungarian license plates. Officers approached the truck after they noticed it had parked up for a long period and thought it had broken down.

As they approached the vehicle, officers noticed "blood dripping" from the vehicle as well as "the smell of dead bodies." The van driver was nowhere to be seen.

Police said in a press conference on Thursday that the migrants, who were traveling in the truck, may have died before they entered Austria on Wednesday evening.

Ministry confirms arrests

Four people were arrested following Thursday's discovery, among them three Bulgarian and one Afghan.

One of those arrested, a Bulgarian of Lebanese descent, is the current holder of the vehicle. Another two suspects, also thought to be Bulgarian, are thought to have driven the truck at some point during its journey from Hungary to Austria.

Asked what Austria intends to do to in light of the tragedy, Mikl-Leitner said she "did not support internal border controls."

"What we need to do is secure external borders. Then we can of course provide protection to refugees and also take the route away from traffickers," she said, adding that Europe needed to act as quickly as possible "to save human lives."

ksb/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)