Saturday 10 December 2016

Surely we must give all the help we can to ease this flow of misery

Nick Squires in Kecskemit, Hungary

Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30

THE RACE FOR LIFE: A Syrian refugee runs after entering Hungary from Serbia through a barbed wire fence
THE RACE FOR LIFE: A Syrian refugee runs after entering Hungary from Serbia through a barbed wire fence
AGONY: Hungarian policemen detain a Syrian migrant family at the border with Serbia

A row of jet skis in the Mediterranean showed the latest method adopted by people smugglers to take their charges to Europe.

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Migrants appear to have paid for a high-speed journey to Spain from Morocco, travelling across the Strait of Gibraltar, on board the jet skis.

The Spanish Guardia Civil seized the small fleet off the town of Tarifa on the country's southern coast, just 25 miles from the Moroccan port of Tangier. But that journey far exceeds the safe range of jet skis and a statement from the Guardia Civil made clear that the traffickers' latest conveyance posed a "serious risk" to the lives of migrants.

The seizure came as three children were rescued after almost dying of thirst in a lorry in Austria.

Police discovered the suspicious lorry containing 26 people on a road in the northern town of St. Peter am Hart. The refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were huddled together in a confined space, and the children had already been in poor health A 29-year-old Romanian man was arrested after trying to escape by accelerating away when he saw the blue lights of the police car.

Meanwhile, three Bulgarians and one Afghan appeared in court in Hungary in connection with the discovery of the bodies of 71 migrants packed on board a lorry in neighbouring Austria.

The men were led into the court in the city of Kecskemit on leather leashes, flanked by burly police officers. Their heads were bowed and their faces shielded with manacled hands.

The Bulgarians were aged 29, 30, and 50, while the Afghan was 28.

Police believe the men are low-ranking members of one of the gangs that earn large sums by transporting people through Greece and the Balkans. This 'Western Balkans' route has become the busiest way for migrants to reach the EU, second only to the 'Eastern Mediterranean' option.

The abandoned truck, found on Thursday beside an Austrian motorway near the border with Hungary, contained the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children, including a girl aged one or two. The fugitives were thought to be Syrians.

Kecskemit was chosen for the hearing because the lorry is believed to have left from this town, 60 miles north of Hungary's border with Serbia. "We believe it then travelled down to Hungary's southern border, picked up the migrants, and drove into Austria," said Gabor Schmidt, a public prosecutor.

One of the suspects is the alleged owner of the lorry; the remaining three allegedly drove the vehicle. None has yet been charged. If they are convicted of human trafficking and torture, they could face up to 16 years in jail.

During the hearing on Saturday, Mr Schmidt asked the court to detain the four men for a month. The court agreed to remand them in custody for 30 days, a period which could be extended.

Prosecutors said the length of the detention was made necessary by the "exceptional nature of the crime" and the "deaths of the smuggled persons".

The four suspects are also expected to face separate charges of manslaughter in Austria.

Post mortems were carried out yesterday in Vienna. Police said the people could have been dead for up to two days. The doors to the refrigerated truck, which formerly belonged to a Slovakian poultry firm, were locked and bound with cables.

Oesterreich, an Austrian newspaper, calculated that the 71 were crammed into 160 square feet. They would have asphyxiated in just over an hour, with the children dying first.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, accused some EU countries of playing an "undignified game" over the argument about how to distribute refugees among European countries.

"We are not dealing with a failure of the EU, but rather with a glaring failure of some governments who don't want to take responsibility," he told Die Welt, a German newspaper.

Mr Schulz said that some countries, "who don't care about European integration" had prevented agreement on a Europe-wide plan to tackle the crisis.

Ireland has never been part of the Schengen area, which allows freedom of movement across Europe.

"The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave, gruesome scenes play out at borders, there is mutual blame - and those in greatest need, seeking our protection, are left without help," added Mr Schulz.

Sunday Independent

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