VIENNA: Austrian police have recovered more than 70 dead migrants from a lorry abandoned on a motorway, the government said Friday, in the latest horrific tragedy in Europe’s unrelenting migrant misery.
Thirty bodies were also recovered in the Mediterranean off Libya on Thursday after yet another boat crammed with migrants sank, while a Swedish coastguard ship docked in Sicily with a grim cargo of 52 dead.
Austrian motorway maintenance workers first saw the poultry truck on Thursday and noticed “decomposing body fluids” dripping from the vehicle, police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil said.
Police then briefly opened the rear doors and after being confronted by an overpowering stench and a mass of tangled limbs slammed them shut again and took the truck away for proper examination.
Forensics experts worked all night to clear out of the vehicle seeking to identify the bodies. Police were due to give more details at 0900 GMT.
The state of the bodies inside suggests that those inside had been dead for some time. Television images showed flies buzzing around the back of the vehicle in the baking sun.
‘Who will stop this madness?’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Austria for a summit with Balkan leaders on Europe’s migrant crisis on Thursday, said all those present were “shaken” by the “horrible” news.
“This is a warning to us to tackle this migrants issue quickly and in a European spirit, which means in a spirit of solidarity, and to find solutions,” Merkel said.
“Today is a dark day… This tragedy affects us all deeply,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told a press conference.
Mikl-Leitner vowed to crack down on the people who pocket exorbitant sums to arrange migrants’ passage to Europe, and then often leave them stranded en route.
“Human traffickers are criminals,” she said.
Austrian newspaper Kurier carried a black front page on Thursday with the headline: “Who will stop this madness?”
The European Union’s leaders have struggled to get to grips with a crisis that has seen nearly 340,000 migrants cross the bloc’s borders this year — not counting August — many from hotspots like Iraq and Syria.
Millions of other refugees have sought refuge in places like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
So far this year, over 2,300 men, women and children have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean to the EU after rickety and overcrowded boats operated by often unscrupulous people-smugglers capsized.
A Libyan coast guard official told AFP Thursday that “dozens” were still missing from the latest boat to sink off the western port of Zuwara, and that the search would be “intensified” on Friday morning.