The ringleaders of a major international people smuggling gang have been charged with murder after police in Austria found the corpses of 71 dead migrants rotting in the back of a truck by the side of a motorway in August last year.
A probe conducted by Hungarian police and Europol led officers to 11 key facilitators of the smuggling gang, which was mostly made up of Afghan and Bulgarian nationals. Some of the group are said to have confessed to their roles in the deaths of the migrants found in the back of the truck – which was discovered on a road close to the Hungarian-Austrian border, while others have denied all wrongdoing.
Police attended what they thought was a broken down vehicle on the hard shoulder of Highway A4 near Parndorf, south of Vienna, on 27 August 2015. Officers who arrived at the scene described seeing blood dripping from the trailer and detecting the smell of dead bodies. On opening the back of the lorry, they were confronted with a sea of corpses, including a baby and three children.
The migrants who died on the truck all came from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, according to investigators.
Robert Crepinko, Head of Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre, said: “This tragic case is another example of how ruthless the criminal gangs can be when only pursuing their financial interests. We are confronted with multinational criminal networks that smuggle human beings and carelessly disregard the dangers they are exposing them to. Money is all that matters to them.”
According to Crepinko, police across Europe are launching investigations into as many as 200 cases of human trafficking every month.
Separately, police in the UK have discovered a group of Iraqi migrants in the back of a refrigerated lorry who are thought to have travelled in the trailer for two weeks before being found. The stowaways were discovered when the vehicle’s Polish driver made an emergency stop at a service station in Bristol after hearing unexplained knocking sounds from the back of his trailer.
Migrant stowaways can cost truck drivers and their employers dearly, even if they can prove they had no knowledge of their human cargo. In many EU countries, hauliers can face large fines and potential prison sentences if authorities suspect they knew their vehicle was being used for the purposes of human trafficking.
Even where it can be proved that both the driver of a truck and the trailer’s owner were unaware of migrants travelling with their load, goods being shipped will often have to be destroyed for hygiene reasons if asylum seekers have been in contact with them, especially in the case of food and medicine.