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Fifth suspect detained over Austria migrant deaths

August 30, 2015

Authorities have caught an alleged fifth member of a smuggling ring in connection with the deaths of 71 people. The forensic team on the case has said it believes the migrants died of suffocation.

Truck containing 71 bodies (Photo: REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader)
Image: Reuters/H-P Bader

Police in Hungary announced on Sunday they had arrested a fifth suspect, a Bulgarian citizen, in connection with last week's discovery of a truck abandoned in Austria containing the bodies of 71 migrants. Authorities said he is suspected of human trafficking.

The four other suspects, three Bulgarians and an Afghan, were in a Hungarian court on Saturday. They have been remanded into custody for a month for questioning before they answer charges of torture and trafficking. They are also wanted for murder in Austria, though they have maintained their innocence.

Forensic examiners in Austria have been able to perform autopsies on 16 corpses found in the truck on the side of the highway south of Vienna, Reuters news agency reported. They announced that the migrants, thought to be from Syria or possibly Afghanistan, are presumed to have suffocated - though police are awaiting a final report from pathologists.

Trying to reach Western Europe

In a separate incident, three children were rescued from a van near Austria's border with Germany after the driver, a Romanian citizen, led police on a high-speed chase. They were crammed in the back of the vehicle with 23 other migrants from Bangladesh, Syria, and Afghanistan. The children, aged 5 and 6, were rushed to the hospital near death from dehydration.

French Interior Minister Laurent Fabius took the opportunity to criticize eastern European countries, especially Hungary, for a "scandalous" refugee policy, while British Interior Minister Theresa May laid the blame on Europe's borderless Schengen area, which she said was exacerbating the migrant crisis.

Even Pope Francis spoke out about the evils of human trafficking on Sunday, saying that it "offends humanity" and that he joined the Austrian church in praying for the victims of smugglers.

Infografik Größte Flüchtlingsrouten nach Europa Englisch

Smuggling plagues Hungary

Hungary is dealing with an unprecedented level of trafficking as hopeful migrants try to make their way to Western Europe along the Western Balkans route. On top of the two incidents in Austria, Hungarian police stopped a Romanian truck on Sunday and discovered 41 migrants piled into the cargo deck.

The day before, a Lithuanian man was stopped outside Budapest and found to be transporting 12 Syrians in his vehicle. On Friday, three Hungarian men were caught with 19 Syrians in their van, which was followed by the discovery of three vehicles with Italian license plates driven by Serbian men who had been trying to smuggle 69 Syrians and 12 Iraqis on remote country roads.

es/sgb (AP, AFP, Reuters)