The immigration crisis in Europe continues to rise with the discovery of at least 71 bodies in an abandoned roadside truck along an Austrian highway. Investigators originally thought up to 50 refugees had died inside the vehicle, which had been parked on the shoulder of the busy road linking eastern Europe to France and Germany. The truck was discovered when maintenance workers noticed fluids from the decomposing bodies seeping from the truck’s back door.
The vehicle was found Thursday about 10 miles from Austria’s border with Slovakia and Hungary. Forensic teams with police were initially only able to say the vehicle was “full of bodies” due to the rate of decomposition. Apparently it was enough that officials could not say how long the truck had been in the area. Temperatures in recent days had been as high as 90 degrees.
The victims, who authorities say likely suffocated, were 59 men, eight women and four children, including a girl who was no older than two years of age, according to Burgenland Police director Hans Peter Doskozil. Authorities confirmed that three suspects believed to be involved in human trafficking have been taken into custody in connection with the case. At least one other suspect is being hunted. Doskozil said the three in custody were not ring leaders.
“We currently have three people under arrest in Hungary… and expect that this is the trace that will lead us to the perpetrators,” he told reporters.
The death of the 71 immigrants overshadowed a meeting in Vienna of European leaders to discuss the very same migration crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “shaken” by the news.
“The world’s eyes are upon us,” she told reporters Thursday. “This is a warning for us to tackle the issue of migration quickly. We have more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II.”
Due in part to the war in Syria, thousands of migrants have recently attempted to cross into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, often taking dangerously unnecessary risks at sea and across country. These immigrants are arriving in mass from Syria, Afghanistan and parts of Africa to seek new lives in the West. Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, said it was “deeply shocked and saddened at the grim discovery,” adding: “This tragedy underscores the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean sea to the highways of Europe. It shows they have no regard for human life and are only after profit. It also shows the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe.”
The death toll will continue to rise as these migrants decide that risking their lives, and that of their families, is a safer option than remaining in what has become a veritable wasteland of war, warlords, and those pulling the strings.
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