Arrests Made After 71 Dead Migrants Found in Truck

Austria migrant lorry
Forensic police officers inspect a parked truck in which up to 50 migrants were found dead, on a motorway near Parndorf, Austria August 27, 2015. Austrian officials revised the death toll on Friday August 28, 2015 and said that more than 70 people were believed to have died in the lorry. Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

Updated | Hungarian police have arrested four men in connection with the discovery of 71 dead migrants in an abandoned truck in Austria on Thursday. Three of the men are from Bulgaria, and one is from Afghanistan, Hungarian police confirmed in a statement published on their website on Friday.

The badly decomposed state of the bodies initially made establishing a definitive death toll difficult. Austrian officials at first estimated that between 20 and 50 people were discovered dead in the truck, but revised the death toll Friday to say that the bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children, including a baby girl, had been counted. The shocking discovery as revereberated across Europe, which is struggling to deal with the largest influx of refugees since World War II, according to the United Nations.

The refrigerated lorry, which has Hungarian licence plates, was found abandoned on the side of the A4 motorway in the Burgenland province of Austria, near to the Hungarian and Slovakian borders, on Thursday morning. One of the people arrested is believe to be the driver of the truck, The Guardian reported.

Law enforcement officials believe the victim were migrants or refugees attempting to enter Europe and likely suffocated in the truck, although the investigation is ongoing.

Reutersreported that the truck is being held at a customs building with refrigeration facilities in the village of Nickelsdorf, where investigation work is ongoing. According to theBBC, the truck is thought to have set off from southeast of Budapest on Wednesday morning and was captured on camera on the Hungarian side of the border with Austria at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. By 6 a.m. on Thursday, the truck was already parked in the A4 layby, where it was discovered and opened by Austrian police at 11.30 a.m. A local police chief said it appeared the people inside the vehicle had already been dead for one and a half to two days.

Coming on the same day hundreds were feared to have died after a boat packed with migrants sank off the Libyan coast, the Austrian discovery compounded Europe's migrant crisis. Katerina Kratzmann, head of the Vienna Office of the International Organisation for Migration told Newsweek that the deaths were shocking to people as they had occurred on European soil. "It's bad enough to look at the numbers of people who are dying to cross [the Mediterranean] and to get into Europe," Kratzmann said. "But now we have a case where a lot of people actually died in a truck on the territory."

In addition to the need for the European Union to tackle the problem of smuggling rings, Kratzmann says that migrants fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa must be offered more legal means of entering the region such as resettlement, humanitarian and student visas and the instrument of temporary protection—an EU protocol which affords a generalised form of protection to a large group of refugees during an emergency situation. EU member states must adapt their procedures in line with the current situation or risk the crisis worsening, she argues. "What we see these days is that the system that we have in place is not made for the situation we have, so we have to change the system," she says.

Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin, the head of the IOM's Budapest Office, said in a statement that migrants use the Western Balkan route and resort to smugglers "as no other means of transport—such as train or bus—is available to them, as they are routinely taken off the trains and buses bound for Austria and Germany from Hungary."

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in a statement that the discovery marked a "a dark day" for the country and described human smugglers are "criminals." German chancellor Angela Merkel, who had gathered with Austria and Balkan leaders in Vienna for a conference to discuss the migration crisis on Thursday, said that they were "shaken by the horrible news" and that the incident is "a warning to work to resolve this problem and show solidarity."

Austria has already received the same amount of asylum applications—28,000—by June this year as it did in the whole of 2014, the country's IOM branch said in an emailed statement. Kratzmann says Austria is projected to receive 80,000 applications by the end of 2015.