Bulgarian police arrest seven after finding 18 Afghan migrants dead in abandoned truck

A further 34 migrants, including five children, were taken to hospitals in Sofia, with some in a critical, but stable condition. PHOTO: AFP

SOFIA – Bulgarian police have arrested seven people, an official said Saturday, a day after they found the bodies of 18 dead migrants from Afghanistan, including that of a child, in an abandoned truck near the capital Sofia.

The illegal migrants were hidden in compartments in the vehicle that was transporting timber, the interior ministry said, adding that the truck was found near the village of Lokorsko.

Some of the migrants had suffocated, the head of the National Investigative Service, Mr Borislav Sarafov, told reporters.

The migrants crossed the border with Turkey illegally and hid in the woods for two days before they were loaded onto the truck near the city of Yambol in south-eastern Bulgaria, he told reporters.

Thirty-four migrants, including five children, were rushed to hospitals in Sofia and some were in a critical, but stable, condition, Health Minister Asen Medzhidiev said.

“There was a lack of oxygen to those who were locked in this truck. They were freezing, wet, they had not eaten for several days,” he told reporters.

Four Bulgarians have already been detained as suspects, and three fresh arrests were announced Saturday. “I can confirm seven people have been arrested,” an interior ministry official told AFP.

Another government official said the suspected ringleader was among those arrested. He had earlier received a suspended jail sentence of five months for people smuggling.

Bulgaria is situated on a route used by migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan to enter the European Union. Most do not stay in the country but look to move on to richer nations in Western Europe, often using elaborate networks of smugglers.

In 2015, three Bulgarian truck drivers were arrested and later charged with the deaths of 71 migrants found beside an Austrian motorway.

In December, Bulgaria was blocked from entering the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone by Austria and the Netherlands over security and rule-of-law concerns, but the country will seek to gain entry again this year. AFP

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