Fifth man arrested over deaths of 71 migrants in Austria

KECSKEMET (Hungary) • Hungarian police yesterday said they have arrested a fifth man over the deaths of 71 migrants found in an abandoned truck in Austria last week.

The police said they are investigating a "Bulgarian national, male, on suspicion of committing the crime of smuggling people". The arrest was made late on Saturday.

Three Bulgarians and an Afghan were already remanded into custody on Saturday, over last Thursday's gruesome discovery of the truck. All four, however, said they were innocent and that they will appeal. Austria may seek to have them extradited.

Europe is struggling to find a coherent approach, as its governments face a record influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa.

Police believe the four suspects, who appeared in court in Kecskemet on Saturday, are low-ranking members of one of the numerous, unscrupulous human-trafficking gangs that transport migrants in return for exorbitant amounts of money.

They were arrested after the truck was discovered abandoned next to an Austrian motorway.

Police said the victims, believed to be mainly refugees fleeing the war in Syria, may have been dead for up to two days.

The court will remand the three Bulgarians, aged 29, 30 and 50, and the 28-year-old Afghan into custody until Sept 29.

Their arrest came as three "severely dehydrated" children were recovering in an Austrian hospital, a day after they were rescued from a second van packed with 26 Syrians, Bangladeshis and Afghans. The van was pulled over by Austrian police after a short chase last Friday near the German border.

"If the journey had continued, the situation could probably have become critical," a police spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

Another spokesman said that the two five-year-old girls, and one six-year-old boy, were in "stable" condition in hospital on Saturday.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have fled conflict and hardship in the Middle East and Africa for a better life in Europe this year.

Some 2,500 have died in the attempt.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Fifth man arrested over deaths of 71 migrants in Austria'. Print Edition | Subscribe