• Germany's news in English

Austria refugee tragedy suspects appear in court

The Local · 29 Aug 2015, 11:51

Published: 29 Aug 2015 11:51 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The three Bulgarians and one Afghan in custody over the 71 deaths are believed by police to be low-ranking members of one of the numerous human trafficking gangs that many of the tens of thousands migrants coming to Europe pay to help them.

"This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers," Ban Ki-moon said Friday, expressing his horror at events in Austria and yet another Mediterranean shipwreck.

"I appeal to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations."

The truck, found Thursday on an Austrian motorway in the baking sun near the Hungary border, contained the tightly packed, decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children including a little girl. They were thought to be Syrians.

The grisly discovery highlighted the dangers faced by people fleeing conflict and hardship in the Middle East and Africa even once they reach Europe, with many putting their fate in the hands of profit-hungry people smugglers.

It came as yet another boat crammed with desperate migrants sank in the Mediterranean off Libya. Seventy-six bodies were recovered but the United Nations said up to 200 people on two vessels were feared drowned.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have fled conflict and hardship in the Middle East and Africa for a better life in Europe this year, and 2,500 have died in the attempt, mostly in the Mediterranean.

"My little sister, someone climbed on her back and pushed her down. When I saw her for the last time, she was underwater with him on top of her,” Pakistani Shefaz Hamza, 17, a survivor of the latest tragedy, told AFP in Libya.

"My mother and I spent nine hours in the water, holding on to a bit of wood. I kept telling her everything would be okay. But a quarter of an hour before the rescue team arrived, she passed away," he said.

Human trafficking

A court in the Hungarian town of Kecskemet, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the Serbian border that some 140,000 have crossed this year, was due to rule on whether the four arrested men can remain in custody for further investigation.

They include the owner of the vehicle and two drivers, and were likely "low-ranking members... of a Bulgarian-Hungarian human-trafficking gang", said Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief in the Austrian state of Burgenland.

Austrian newspaper Kurier quoted a government official specialising in human trafficking as estimating that the people inside the lorry would have paid smugglers a total of around 700,000 euros ($785,000) for their entire journey.

The public prosecutor in Burgenland, Johann Fuchs, said he would likely seek to have the suspects extradited to Austria and that they could be tried for murder.

The discovery of the truck in Austria, a rare occurrence on land in a prosperous country when so many migrants have died at sea, provoked a wave of horror across Europe.

Austrian daily Oesterreich calculated Saturday that the 71 were crammed into 15 square metres (160 square feet) and would have asphyxiated in little over an hour once they were shut inside with no air, the children suffocating first.

Austrian motorway maintenance workers alerted police after noticing "decomposing body fluids" dripping from the truck, Doskozil said.

The police were confronted by an overpowering stench and a mass of tangled limbs, and forensics experts worked all night to clear out the vehicle. TV images showed flies buzzing around the back of the vehicle.

'We don't know where to go'

"If the stink from our car parks gets stronger perhaps we will finally understand, not just in Austria... that it is time to create safe routes to Europe, fast registration and a swift and a fair sharing out (of migrants),” said Amnesty International's Austrian chief Heinz Patzelt.

Story continues below…

In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed this week by far-right protestors, a demonstration to show solidarity with refugees was banned in Dresden on Saturday.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and French President Francois Hollande called during a phone call for a "unified European system of asylum and a common migration policy".

The victims in Austria were likely among the more than 100,000 people to have trekked up through the western Balkans into EU member Hungary this year.

From Hungary, which is laying a barbed-wire barrier along its border with Serbia to try to keep migrants out, many attempt to make it to richer nations like Germany and Sweden.

On Friday, Hungary's government proposed stiffer penalties for border jumpers and people smugglers, including a three-year jail term for those caught breaching the new fence.

"We passed by sea. And the sea was just a game playing with our lives,” said Lashkari, a 30-year-old Afghan picked up by Hungarian border police Thursday after travelling for 30 days.

"I don't think we've reached our final destination yet because after this we don't know where do we go," he told AFP.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Germans think they're fit, but they're really couch potatoes
Photo: DPA.

There's been an increase in the number of Germans who define themselves as "fit", but their lifestyle choices don't quite match this self-perception.

Intensive farming 'endangers a third of German species'
Photo: DPA

There are 32,000 species of animal, plant and mushroom life native to Germany. Due to intensive farming methods, one in every three of these is endangered, a new report shows.

German hospital uses therapy to 'treat' paedophiles
A poster from the campaigne "Don't offend", which offers therapy to paedophiles. The sign reads "Do you love kids more than you'd prefer? There's help." Photo: DB Scholz & Friends / DPA.

A unique German initiative is offering therapy to paedophiles to control their urges, with the aim of getting them help before they offend.

Minister: 'no tolerance' for clowns after chainsaw attack
Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has called for a zero-tolerance approach to 'killer clowns' after a series of attacks culminating in two teenagers being chased by a clown wielding a chainsaw.

Baby who was auctioned on eBay taken away from father
Photo: DPA.

A German court ruled on Thursday that a man who put his one-month-old baby up for sale on the online auction platform eBay should only be allowed contact with the child under supervision.

Portugal's ruling party calls German minister 'pyromaniac'
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Photo: DPA.

The head of Portugal's ruling Socialists called German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble a "pyromaniac" on Thursday after he criticized Lisbon for reversing course on austerity.

These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd