Austrian police have discovered the badly-decomposing bodies of at least 20, and possibly up to 50, migrants piled in a truck parked on the shoulder of the main motorway from Budapest to Vienna.
The shocking find came as Austria hosted a summit in Vienna on Europe’s refugee crisis for Western Balkan nations, which have been overwhelmed this year by the tens of thousands of migrants trying to get into Europe via their territory.
Police ordered reporters at the scene 40km south-east of Vienna to move away from the vehicle, a white refrigeration truck with images of food items on it.
The state of the bodies on the hot summer day made establishing their identities and even the exact number of dead migrants difficult, but the total could rise to 50, said Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of Burgenland police.
The truck was abandoned on Wednesday and its back door was left open, Doskozil said.
It had Hungarian licence plates but writing on the side and back of it was in Slovak.
The state of the bodies suggested the migrants could have been dead for several days.
Interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner condemned the traffickers.
“Human smugglers are criminals,” she said.
Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann said the tragedy showed how critical it was for nations to work together on solutions to the influx of migrants.
“Today, refugees lost the lives they had tried to save by escaping, but lost them in the hand of traffickers,” he said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “shaken by the awful news”.
She added: “This reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find solutions in the spirit of solidarity.”
The truck apparently used to belong to the Slovak chicken meat company Hyza, part of the Agrofert Holding, owned by the Czech finance minister Andrej Babis.
Agrofert Holding, in a statement, said it had sold the truck in 2014.
The new owners did not remove the truck’s logos as required and the Hyza company has nothing to do with this truck now, the company said.
On the side of the truck was the slogan “Honest chicken”, while the back read: “I taste so well because they feed me so well.”
The Hungarian government said the truck’s licence plates were registered by a Romanian citizen in the central city of Kecskemet.
Meanwhile, a boat packed with migrants sank off the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara yesterday. Officials said hundreds might have died.
A security official in Zuwara said there had been several hundred people on board and some appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized.
“Some 100 illegal migrants have survived,” he said, adding that rescue operations were continuing.
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