Austria Now Says 71 Bodies Thought to Be of Migrants Were in Truck
VIENNA — The legions of desperate migrants fleeing war and mayhem in the Middle East and Africa have long known they were risking harm from unscrupulous smugglers and death at sea to reach the safety of Europe. But it has became shockingly clear that they now face the same dangers within Europe’s own borders.
The decomposing bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrians, based on a passport carried by one of the victims, were found on Thursday in the refrigerated back of a truck found abandoned on the outskirts of Vienna in the summer heat. The discovery came just as European leaders were meeting in a nearby palace to devise new ways to cope with the migration crisis.
The Austrian police said on Friday that they had detained three Hungarians in connection with the deaths of those found in the truck, which included 59 men, eight women and four children. Those arrested included the owner of the truck and two drivers.In a separate case, 10 Syrian migrants were injured early Friday when a van overturned on a highway in Hungary, the police said in a statement.
The Austrian authorities said they would increase controls on the borders in response to the tragedy, and given the growing stream of people flowing into the country.
News about the corpses instantly overshadowed the meeting of European leaders and transfixed the region with new worries that the scope and complexity of the crisis had escalated.
European Union officials have been struggling to find ways to control the tens of thousands of migrants who are now reaching the Continent, without forfeiting the free movement between member countries that is a fundamental part of life in the 28-nation bloc. Now its members are confronting human traffickers who are exploiting the open borders.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who said at a news conference “we are all shaken by this terrible news,” emphasized what she called the need for Europe to pull together and ease the migration crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II. But the meeting ended on a discordant note with no apparent consensus on how to proceed.
The death toll at sea is already greater than 2,500, and it is rising almost every day, with news reports on Thursday that a ship carrying hundreds of migrants had sunk off the coast of Libya.
On Friday, an official for the Red Crescent said that 82 bodies had washed ashore. “About 100 people are still missing,” said the official, Ibrahim al-Attoushi, Reuters reported.
Now the truck discovery has made it clear that the illegal trade in humans has broadened from arranging perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to profiteering from the tens of thousands now pouring in through the Balkans.
Until recently, the flow was mostly restricted to the southern European countries, particularly Italy. But as new routes through Greece and the Balkans have become popular, the pressure to stem the flow has broadened and deepened.