71 People Found Dead In Abandoned Truck Were Most Likely Refugees

Photo: Ronald Zak/AP Photo.
Police surround a truck on the Austrian highway A4. They found at least 50 bodies suffocated inside.
Update: Authorities confirmed on Friday that the number of bodies found in an abandoned truck in Austria is at least 71, rather than the original estimate of 50. The victims, including men, women, and children, were most likely refugees fleeing Syria, where an ongoing civil war has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 and displaced millions more, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 59 men, eight women and four children were found dead in the back of the abandoned truck on the side of the highway on Thursday morning. Officials believe they suffocated and died perhaps two days ago, the BBC reports. On Friday, Hungarian police said they had arrested four suspects in connection with the deaths.

This story was originally published on August 27 at 1:57 p.m.

Authorities found a truck full of as many as 50 decomposing bodies on the side of a highway in Austria around 11:40 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The New York Times
reports that the deceased were likely refugees seeking asylum in Hungary by way of Greece or Turkey. The tragedy is evidence of an escalating migrant crisis in Europe, a supposed harbor for those attempting to escape violence and human rights violations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. "Over the years, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have died of suffocation, dehydration, and inhalation of gases as they hid in trucks and cars and stowed away on ferries to cross EU borders," Judith Sutherland, Human Rights Watch's associate director for Europe and Central Asia, told Refinery29 in an email. "Clearly, the competent authorities in Austria should diligently investigate and bring to account the individual or individuals directly responsible for the deaths of these people," Sutherland added. Outfitted with a refrigerated trailer, the truck sat on the shoulder of Austria's A4 Motorway, near Parndorf, in the northeast of the country. Local news outlets allege that the truck's occupants died of suffocation. The driver is said to have fled the scene, and Hans-Peter Doskozil, director of the local police, is leading a team that will search for clues. Lindsey Hilsum, an editor at Channel 4 News, passed the truck on the side of the highway. She tweeted that a "terrible smell of death" permeated the air.
More than 200,000 asylum seekers from Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African nations have also crossed into Greece this year. Usually, these people go in search of help from the European Union, whose member countries — such as Austria and Germany — can provide them with shelter. In a statement, Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, called Thursday's incident and ones like it "a tragic indictment of Europe’s failures to provide alternative routes." “Europe has to step up and provide protection to more, share responsibility better, and show solidarity to other countries and to those most in need," she said.

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