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Refugees perish inside abandoned truck

August 27, 2015

Dozens of migrants are thought to have been inside a truck found next to a highway south of Vienna. The local police chief has announced that the refugees were most likely dead before they even entered Austria.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Oczeret

Up to 50 migrants whose bodies were discovered in a truck on the side of an Austrian highway on Thursday may have died before they entered the country on Wednesday evening, local police said in a press conference. Authorities also suspect the perpetrator or perpetrators could have already left Austria, according to Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of police in the Burgenland state.

Doskozil said the truck was thought to have been seen in Budapest on Wednesday, and that "one can maybe assume that the deaths occurred one and a half to two days ago."

The vehicle found near the Hungarian border had the markings of a Slovakian poultry company but Hungarian license plates. Officers stopped to approach the truck on Thursday, after they had noticed it parked a long time and thought it had mechanical trouble. As they got nearer, they noticed "blood dripping" from the vehicle as well as "the smell of dead bodies."

Police said there were between 20 and 50 corpses inside, but that it would take until Friday morning to determine the exact number of victims. The discovery makes the latest in a string of tragedies as the European Union grapples with unprecedented waves of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa.

Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner called it "dark day" and reminded the public that "human traffickers are criminals," not people helping desperate refugees. Her government and Germany have agreed to step up police action against human smuggling.

Hungary blasts EU

As the truck likely left from Hungary, Hungarian police were working with their Austrian counterparts to hunt down the missing driver. The ruling Fidesz party, however, did not miss the opportunity to let their highly critical opinion of European Union strategy be known.

"This tragic event shows how the EU's migration policy has failed," the party said in a statement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the desired destination of many of the migrants, was in Vienna on Thursday to attend a summit with Balkan leaders which was set to discuss the dangers inherent in refugees trying to reach western Europe via the west Balkan route. For her part Merkel said she was "shaken" by the "horrible" tragedy.

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es/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters)