Austrian police say they found dozens of people, including children, who had been hiding in a refrigerated truck abandoned on a highway last week. The driver has been arrested, suspected of migrant-smuggling.
At least 38 people from Syria, Iraq and Turkey were discovered after traveling across the Austrian border in a large refrigerated truck that had pulled over beside the highway, police announced Wednesday.
The truck had no ventilation and the migrants – who included several children – had "been afraid they would die and were suffering from a lack of oxygen," a police statement said.
Several people who had paid between 6,000 and 8,000 euros for the trip managed to run into nearby fields when the truck stopped, leading witnesses to call the police.
According to news reports, the migrants said they had set off on different routes from Turkey to Romania, where they had been housed in a run-down house for a long time. The truck had then brought them from a forest near the Hungarian border.
Rise in smuggling
The man presumed to be the driver of the truck, a Turkish citizen living in Romania, was arrested, according to news agency reports.
"We are currently seeing a rise in smuggling," local Austrian police official Omar Haijawi-Pirchner said. He also referred to "smashing" the smuggling network involved to "avoid further crimes."
In 2015 the discovery in Austria of 71 decomposing bodies in an abandoned refrigerated vehicle received international media coverage and is seen as contributing to the decision to allow hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Europe.
Austria, which has been led since 2017 by conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, has increasingly tightened border controls. The Chancellor recently called on the EU to step up the fight against smuggling networks.
"If Europe protects its borders, this will lead to fewer people setting out, and fewer people drowning; this is how we will destroy the smugglers’ business model, rather than by saying there is a 'welcome culture'," he said.
With afp, dpa, ntv