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Truck driver jailed for smuggling 51 migrants

Rebecca Staudenmaier with dpa
March 20, 2018

A Turkish man was sentenced to jail for trying to smuggle 51 migrants into Germany last year. The court ruled the man was indifferent to the health and safety of the men, women and children held in the back of his truck.

Investigators inspect a truck that was transporting 51 migrants illegally across the border into Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

A court in the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder handed down a jail sentence on Tuesday to a truck driver who tried to smuggle asylum-seekers into Germany last year.

The 47-year-old Turkish man was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle 51 men, women and children over the German-Polish border.

The court's verdict is not yet final, with two more hearings to come.

Federal police discovered the 50 Iraqis and one Syrian during a routine check on a highway near the border.

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The asylum-seekers were reportedly hidden in the truck's trailer between unsecured, heavy loads. All of the travelers, including the 17 children, were thirsty and hungry and some showed symptoms of dehydration.

At the time, German federal police posted a picture of the discovery on Twitter, showing the asylum-seekers packed into the back of the truck.

Driver 'responsible' for welfare of migrants

Presiding Judge Peter Wolf found the defendant guilty of endangering the lives of the migrants and said that he was indifferent to their situation.

"You had the duty to take care of the people you were transporting. You can't talk yourself out of that responsibility," Wolf said in his decision, reported German news site Der Westen.

Read moreRefugee children making a new life in Germany

Evidence presented during the trial showed that the 47-year-old man drove the 51 people non-stop for more than a day — without breaks to use the toilet or stops for food or fresh air.

In his defense, the driver said that he had been put under pressure by unknown men in Turkey who threatened that something would happen to his three daughters if he did not do what they wanted, according to local German public broadcaster rbb.

The court believed the man's story, but still said he was responsible for his actions.

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Asylum-seekers disappeared after rescue

The case gained notoriety in Germany because shortly after being freed from the truck, many of the migrants disappeared from the eastern German town's reception center.

Local authorities believed they were likely picked up by relatives who were already living in Germany and taken elsewhere.

The number of illegal crossings across the European Union has dropped steadily since the height of the migration crisis in 2015 when around 1.8 million people crossed into the bloc. However, number of illegal crossings is still higher than the pre-crisis average.

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