Migrant crisis: Refugees found decomposing in lorry in Austria 'may have been dead when vehicle entered country'

Up to 50 corpses were discovered in a lorry parked at the side of the road

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The Independent Online

Up to 50 migrants whose corpses were found in a lorry on an Austrian motorway might have already been dead when the vehicle entered the country from Hungary the previous night, police have said.

The abandoned refrigerated lorry, which had been near Hungary’s capital Budapest on Wednesday, was found parked at the side of the road by an Austrian police motorway patrol, with fluids from its decomposing cargo seeping from its back door. They “saw blood dripping” from the vehicle and “noticed the smell of dead bodies”, a police spokesman said.

Its discovery, as Austria hosted a summit in Vienna for Western Balkan nations on Europe’s refugee crisis, was a shocking reminder of the grim human story behind the tens of thousands of migrants attempting to enter Europe.

The vehicle, a white refrigerated lorry with Hungarian licence plates, was taken away to a secure location with all the bodies still inside, to enable forensic experts to examine it more thoroughly.

The total number of dead was at least 20 and could rise to 50 (EPA)

The extent of decomposition in the warmth of summer made establishing the identities or even the exact number of dead migrants difficult, but the total number was at least 20 and could rise to 50, according to Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of the Burgenland police. A Slovak chicken company said it had sold the vehicle last year, and Hungarian officials said it had been registered by a Romanian.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was at the summit, said she was “shaken by the awful news” and added: “This reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find solutions in the spirit of solidarity.” Earlier this week Germany said it would allow all arriving Syrian migrants to claim political asylum, regardless of where they had entered the EU, but most other nations have refused to accept a full share of those arriving.

“Human smugglers are criminals,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. The Austrian Chancellor, Werner Faymann, said the deadly tragedy showed that nations must work together to tackle the influx of migrants. “Today refugees lost the lives they had tried to save by escaping, but lost them at the hands of traffickers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Italy’s interior ministry said it would use disused barracks, prisons and even property confiscated from the Mafia to house the 20,000 migrants it expects to arrive by the end of next month. One prison in Campania has already been identified as a possible holding centre, and officials are considering former ’Ndrangheta properties in Calabria, it was reported.

The emergency measures follow an upsurge in the number of migrants reaching Italy in recent days. “After 4,000 refugees were rescued at sea in the past few days, you’d think that the flow would start to slow down, but it’s not,” an Italian official told La Repubblica. “The traffickers are becoming more merciless.”

Meanwhile, a Swedish ship was expected to reach Palermo with 571 rescued asylum-seekers and the bodies of 52 of their fellows, thought to have died of engine fuel inhalation after they were locked in the hold of a migrant vessel.