POLICE have arrested several people believed to be part of a human smuggling operation in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants who probably suffocated in a refrigerated truck found abandoned on Austria’s main highway, police said yesterday.
Officials in Austria said three people had been arrested while their Hungarian counterparts said four were in detention.
This year has seen tens of thousands of people risking everything to seek a better life or refuge in wealthy European countries.
In Austria, officials said they are still investigating but believe the migrants suffocated. Investigators found a Syrian travel document, indicating that at least some of the dead were refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
The 71 included eight women and four children, the youngest a girl between one and two years old, the others boys aged eight to ten. Authorities initially estimated the death toll at 20 to 50, but raised it after towing the truck to a refrigerated warehouse and counting the partially decomposed bodies.
Migrants fearful of death at sea in overcrowded and flimsy boats have increasingly turned to using a land route to Europe through the western Balkans. They start in Greece, which they can reach via a short boat trip from Turkey, then move on through Macedonia, Serbia and into Hungary, where thousands have been crossing the border every day, crawling over or under a razor-wire fence meant to keep them out.
Most go from there to other countries in the European Union, sometimes paying smugglers to drive them, but the discovery of the bodies in the truck showed there is no truly safe path.