VIENNA, Aug 29 – Four people arrested after the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants were found in a truck in Austria will appear before a judge in Hungary Saturday, officials said as the discovery sent shock waves through Europe.
The truck, found Thursday on a motorway near the Slovakia and Hungary borders, was carrying refugees believed to be fleeing the war in Syria, and included a toddler and three young boys, Austrian police said.
The grisly discovery highlighted the dangers faced by migrants 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.
A court on Saturday is to decide whether the four — three Bulgarians and an Afghan, according to Hungarian police — can be detained beyond an initial 72-hour period.
Those arrested included the owner of the vehicle and two drivers, and were likely “low-ranking members… of a Bulgarian-Hungarian human-trafficking gang”, police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil told a news conference.
Austria’s public prosecutor Johann Fuchs said he would likely seek to have the suspects extradited.
The news of the arrests came as Libyan rescue workers recovered 76 bodies from yet another capsized boat in the Mediterranean crammed with people.
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said as many as 200 people on two boats were feared dead near the western port of Zuwara.
A Pakistani teenager who survived by clinging to wreckage for nine hours told AFP that many of the victims were of Arab or African origin.
Shefaz Hamza, his gaze cast down as he sat next to his brother at a police station near the western Libyan port of Zuwara, described watching his mother and sister die in the water.
“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,” the 17-year-old said.
“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.
“She died in my arms. I asked the man to let me take her body with me, but he refused. My mother is dead. My little sister is dead.”
– ‘Who will stop this madness?’ –
The discovery of the truck in Austria provoked a wave of horror across Europe.
Austrian newspaper Kurier carried a black front page with the headline: “Who will stop this madness?”
“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.
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.
Television images showed flies buzzing around the back of the vehicle in the baking sun.
“Among these 71 people, there were 59 men, eight women and four children including a young girl one or two years old and three boys aged eight, nine or 10,” police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil told a news conference.