Saturday 24 March 2018

Migrant children critical as new smugglers detained

Migrant smuggler arrested after police chase, as suspects appear in Hungarian court following last week's grim discovery by Austrian police of lorry with the badly decomposed bodies of 71 refugees

TRAGEDY: A Syrian migrant carries her child as she walks along a railway track after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia. A new future beckons — probably in Germany or Sweden, two of the few EU countries proving their humanity.
TRAGEDY: A Syrian migrant carries her child as she walks along a railway track after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia. A new future beckons — probably in Germany or Sweden, two of the few EU countries proving their humanity.
Austrian police inspect the truck in which 71 migrants were found dead at the side of a motorway last week
Police escort suspects in the deaths of 71 refugees found in a truck on an Austrian motorway

Karin Strohecker in Budapest

Three children were yesterday in a critical condition after being rescued from a lorry in Austria that contained 26 migrants, police said.

The lorry was stopped in Braunau district and the Romanian driver was arrested after a chase.

Those inside were said to be from Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Separately, four men appeared in court in Hungary following the discovery of another truck in Austria last week containing the bodies of 71 people.

The three Bulgarians and an Afghan, who were arrested in Hungary, were remanded in custody until 29 September. Austria is expected to seek their extradition.

In the latest incident - which happened early on Friday but was not reported until yesterday - the three children were taken to hospital suffering from severe dehydration.

Officials said their lives were no longer in danger but they are still in hospital.

Police had tried to stop the vehicle near St Peter am Hart and gave chase when it drove off at speed.

The discovery of the 71 bodies in the lorry left on a roadside near the Hungarian border last week led to an outcry.

Officials said the 59 men, eight women and four children had probably died of suffocation two days earlier.

Police were alerted when a road worker saw liquid seeping from the vehicle and the badly decomposing bodies were found inside. The victims are thought to be mainly Syrians.

Police believe the vehicle found its way there as part of a Bulgarian-Hungarian human smuggling network.

Yesterday, a Hungarian court ordered the preliminary arrests of four men suspected of being involved in the deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria.

Ferenc Bicskei, president of the Kecskemet Court, said that the preliminary arrests would be in place until the suspects are indicted on September 29 at the latest.

Mr Bicskei said the four suspects appealed the court decision, saying they had not committed any crimes.

Prosecutors said the severity of the crime and the risk that the suspects would flee justified their arrest. The suspects were detained in Hungary on Thursday.

The three Bulgarian suspects are aged 29, 30 and 50, officials said, while the Afghan suspect is 28 years old.

Four children, including a baby girl, were among 71 migrants found dead in a truck on an Austrian highway, Austrian police said on Friday.

An Austrian motorway patrol discovered the abandoned truck near the Hungarian border on Thursday, probably at least 24 hours after it had been parked there. The refugees appeared to have been dead for up to two days and fluids from the decomposing bodies were seeping from its door.

Syrian travel documents were found among the victims but more time is needed to determine whether people of other nationalities were on board, Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief for the province of Burgenland, told a news conference.

He later said that authorities had found several mobile phones among the corpses, and were hoping these could help identify the victims.

The back door of the truck was not locked but secured shut with wires. Its refrigeration system showed no signs of having been switched on and there were no vents to allow fresh air inside, Doskozil said.

The victims had been wearing light summer clothes.

The deaths highlighted the dangers faced by migrants at the hands of traffickers on arrival in Europe, even if they survive perilous voyages across the Mediterranean, where more than 2,600 have drowned already this year.

Of the 71 dead, 59 were men, eight were women, and four were children, including a girl estimated at 1-2 years old and three boys aged roughly 8-10.

Austrian and Hungarian police differed over the number of arrests made in the case.

Mr Doskozil said that among the three people taken into custody in Hungary is one man who is believed to be the owner of the truck and is of Bulgarian-Lebanese origin. Another two are believed to have driven the vehicle. One was described as Bulgarian and the other had a Hungarian identity card.

Hungarian police said they had questioned roughly 20 people after conducting house searches. "We expect that that this is the trace that will lead us to the perpetrators," Mr Doskozil said, making clear that the people being held were not the ring leaders of the trafficking gang.

Authorities were transporting the bodies to different Austrian morgues. A witness saw one truck carrying around 10 bodies entering a Vienna forensics centre.

The truck in which the bodies were found belongs to a company called Mastermobiliker, which has been under bankruptcy proceedings since July 2014, according to a Hungarian company register.

The truck bore the logo of what appeared to be a Slovak company, Hyza. Its parent group, Agrofert, said the vehicle was sold to Mastermobiliker in January this year.

About 100,000 migrants, many of them from Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East, have taken the Balkan route into Europe this year, heading via Serbia for Hungary and Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel. Most then move on to richer countries such as Austria and Germany.

Austria saw asylum requests rise to more than 28,000 in the first six months of 2015 - more than the total for all of 2014.

Mr Doskozil said plans by Hungary to build a 175km fence to keep out refugees may be contributing to the problem.

"Many people are trying to get to Germany or Austria before the fence is finished," Mr Doskozil said.

Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said this weekend that the best way to handle the refugee crisis was to create legal pathways into Europe rather than stricter border controls.

The 28 member states of the European Union have not yet agreed on introducing binding quotas for the distribution of refugees. EU leaders declared this week the bloc had "failed" in the face of human agony on its frontiers.

Austria has for months called for such quotas to share out refugees more fairly across the continent.

"I've had enough of these crocodile tears in the European Parliament and then nothing happens," said Ulrike Lunacek, vice president of the parliament and an Austrian lawmaker.

As police processed their suspects, about a dozen migrants scurried across a patch of the four-lane highway connecting Vienna to the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

They said they were Kurds from Syria and Iraq. Two were women carrying small babies. All seemed exhausted.

No, they said: they hadn't heard about the deaths.


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