by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria–

UN has called on European nations to collectively improve efforts to solve the growing migrant crisis, including prosecuting human traffickers preying on refugees. This mandate has come after 71 migrants were found dead in an abandoned truck this past week in Austria. The refugees were likely fleeing Syria and suffocated in the back, after the truck was abandoned on the side of the road.

Bodies found inside an abandoned vehicle in Austria are being loaded for transport to a forensics institute for autopsy. The 71 victims are believed to have suffocated inside the truck while migrating to Austria. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

The truck was found on August 27th, after traveling from Hungary to Austria. The partly decomposed bodies were found inside, piled on top of each other. Damage to the inside of the truck suggests that the refugees had attempted to get out before suffocating to death. Those dead include 59 men, 8 women, and 4 children, including one small infant. Papers from Syria suggest that many came to escape war-torn Syria, but Bangladeshi authorities have also claimed that some of the refugees came from there.

Though their identities are unknown as of yet, at least four people in Austria have been arrested in connection with the deaths. “We are talking about human trafficking, homicide, even murder,” said Johann Fuchs, state prosecutor of Eisenstadt. Autopsies are currently being conducted, with charges of human smuggling, danger to public safety leading to death, or murder being contemplated for those arrested.

The deaths are in connection with the biggest rise in migrants to Europe since the end of the Second World War. A UN report states that migration by boat alone has risen by 40% compared to 2014; the total number of refugees that had crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe had increased from 219,000 in 2014, to 310,000 as of August 2015. More than 2,500 people have died at sea attempting to cross the Mediterranean, not including the 150 people that died crossing from Libya on Thursday. The cause of the deaths, officials say, is due to overcrowding of boats and the way people are packed into those boats.

Melissa Fleming, a UN spokeswoman, said the deaths of the refugees found in Austria clearly demonstrate “the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe….We believe this [event] underscores the ruthlessness of people-smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe. It shows they have absolutely no regard for human life.”

For more information, please see–

Al-Jazeera–Arrests made after 71 dead refugees found in Austria— 28 August 2015

CNN–Italy arrests 10 in migrant deaths at sea; Austrian officials sort out deaths on land— 28 August 2015

The Guardian–A week in Europe’s migrant crisis – a visual guide— 28 August 2015

Miami Herald–Austrian officials: 71 migrants likely suffocated in truck— 28 August 2015

Miami Herald– Europe’s migrant crisis brings tragedy by land and sea— 28 August 2015

The New York Times-Europe Reels From More Migrant Deaths on Land and Sea— 28 August 2015

BBC–Migrant deaths: UN warns of ‘crisis of solidarity’— 29 August 2015

Author: Shelby Vcelka