A manhunt is underway after two migrants were found dead in a van at the Austro-Hungarian border. According to press reports, the van is thought to have contained "almost 30 migrants."
The driver of the van carrying migrants from Hungary into Austria is alleged to have run away from the scene, after army officers operating at the border stopped the van at the border after "finding it suspicious," reported the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP). The incident took place on Tuesday, October 19.
The Austrian authorities have warned the man "may be armed" and have cordoned off the area and are searching using helicopters and police dogs, dpa reports.
The van is reported to have contained many other migrants too. Euronews said that the van is thought to have contained "almost 30 migrants."
Twenty-six migrants, thought to be from Syria and Kurdish, were reportedly found alive and two were found dead. It is thought that the two men who died were between 25 and 30 years of age and in "poor physical condition," reports AP.
The border where the van was found, in the area known as Burgenland in Austria, is being called a "hotspot" for migrant trafficking from eastern Europe and the Balkan route by the Austrian press, such as Exxpress, which also reported that the discovery of the dead migrants had "shaken Austria."
The Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer from the conservative ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party), was reported in Exxpress as saying "This awful crime tells us a few things. That the smugglers go about their business unworried by a few migrants dying, almost expecting it to happen. And therefore that people smuggling is one of the worst forms of organized crime."
Nehammer went on to say that the operation that the Austrian police were running at the border with Hungary in Burgenland was "very important, and that this year alone they had arrested 250 suspected smugglers."
'Helped prevent worse'
The head of the Central Office for Combating Human Trafficking at the Federal Criminal Police Office, (Bekämpfung der Schlepperkriminalität im Bundeskriminalamt), Gerald Tatzgern, told Exxpress that he thought that the smugglers were turning to smaller vans precisely because of the strengthened border controls. However, these controls have "helped prevent worse" -- meaning more deaths, reported dpa.
The smaller vans "makes it even more dangerous for migrants being transported," Tatzgern said to Exxpress. Tatzgern said that this year alone around 30,000 migrants have been discovered in the border area of Austria, bringing the numbers of migrants coming through Austria "back up to the levels the country saw in 2014."
Tatzgern said that the majority of migrants are hoping to cross Austria, and avoid discovery by the authorities so they can apply for asylum Germany, Belgium, Sweden or the Netherlands.
This is not the first time that migrants have died being smuggled into or through Austria. In 2015, 71 migrants were found suffocated in the back of a lorry, including three children and a baby. In that case the migrants came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the migrants were found in Austria, they actually died on the Hungarian side of the border.
In 2019, the Hungarian authorities sentenced the smugglers responsible for that crime to life imprisonment.