More Migrants Die in Austria, Libya

More Migrants Die  in Austria, Libya
More Migrants Die  in Austria, Libya

Dozens of refugees, most likely fleeing war-ravaged Syria, died of suffocation inside an abandoned truck on an Austrian highway, authorities said, while hundreds of people were feared dead on Friday after two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank off Libya.

The 71 victims in the truck were 60 men, eight women and three children, all under 10 years old, officials said, AFP reported.

“They probably suffocated inside the truck. We are talking about human trafficking, homicide, even murder,” said Johann Fuchs, state prosecutor of Eisenstadt. “We are likely looking at a Bulgarian-Hungarian people smuggling ring.”

Officials found a Syrian travel document inside the truck. “We must assume now that these are refugees,” said Hans Peter Doskozil, police director of Austria’s Burgenland region. “In concrete terms, it is possible this is a Syrian refugee group.”

The truck was found Thursday, abandoned on the side of the A4 Highway, which links Budapest in Hungary to the Austrian capital, Vienna. When police opened the back of it, they found the bodies decomposing in the heat.

About 3,000 trucks pass through that area of the highway daily, making checking each one of them almost impossible, authorities said. Most human smugglers use smaller cars, making the use of trucks unusual.

 3 Arrested

Police in Hungary arrested three people: a Bulgarian national of Lebanese origin, who owned the truck, and two drivers.

The grim discovery came just a day after the Italian coast guard said 54 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean. It highlighted once again the scale of the migration crisis gripping Europe.

“This horrible crime shows that we must get even tougher in the battle against people smuggling,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said at a news conference.

“People smugglers are criminals and not well-minded helpers. They do not care about the wellbeing of the refugees, they care about profit.”

In addition to the deaths of refugees trying to cross into Europe by roads, hundreds are making the perilous journey by sea.

The death toll for the whole of 2014 was 3,281, and the IOM fears that this year’s total could well surpass that, if boats carrying migrants continue to attempt the crossing in increasingly uncertain weather.

  Libya Crisis

At least 76 people died after a ship carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the coast of Libya, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said Friday.

The first boat, which capsized early on Thursday, had nearly 50 people on board. The second, which sank later, was carrying about 400 passengers.

Rescuers have pulled 82 bodies from the water and saved 198 people, according to an official with the Red Crescent. About 100 people are still missing, said the official, Ibrahim al-Attoushi.

At least 100 bodies were taken to a hospital in Zuwara, west of Tripoli, a resident said.

The victims included migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and several sub-Saharan African countries, the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

  Mediterranean Crossing

The number of refugees and migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe has soared past 300,000 this year, and some 2,500 more have died trying, the UN said Friday.

Nearly 200,000 people had landed in Greece since January, while another 110,000 had made it to Italy, UN refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, compared to some 219,000 last year.

On Saturday, about 4,400 migrants were rescued from boats off the coast of Libya, in one of the biggest single-day operations mounted to date.

Many of those who attempt the journey are fleeing conflict or persecution, and set off from Libya in unseaworthy boats organized by smugglers.

Libya has had two competing governments for the past year and is largely ruled by rival militias.