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Forensic police officers inspect the truck parked on an Austrian highway.image www.crimefiles.net

Forensic police officers inspect the truck parked on an Austrian highway. Photo: Reuters

Vienna: The partly decomposing bodies of as many as 50 people assumed to be migrants being smuggled across Europe were found in a truck abandoned on a highway east of Vienna on Thursday.

The precise toll was yet to be determined, said Hans-Peter Doskozil, director of police in the eastern state of Burgenland, during a live news conference on Austria’s public broadcaster

Some of the bodies in the truck had started to decompose, investigators said image www.crimefiles.net

Some of the bodies in the truck had started to decompose, investigators said. Photo: AP

Doskozil said the bodies, some of which had started to decompose, had been discovered when the truck was opened after the police noticed it parked off the highway that links Budapest and Vienna. He declined to give further details.

Doskozil said the Austrian police had contacted the authorities in neighbouring Hungary, where the authorities have accelerated the building of a fence along the border with Serbia, in an effort to block the flow of tens of thousands of migrants who have worked their way up the length of the Balkans in recent weeks.

The border fence has threatened to complicate and even cut off what has become an increasingly accessible route for the migrants, many of whom are fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel-We are all shaken by this terrible news image www.crimefiles.net

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “We are all shaken by this terrible news.” Photo: Bloomberg

In recent interviews, humanitarian aid workers and the migrants themselves said the fence would not stop the migrants but would force them to find other ways to make it to wealthy European Union countries farther north, often with the help of human traffickers.

The grisly discovery coincided with the start of a conference in Vienna on how to make the Balkans more secure and prosperous, partly as a means to stop the flight of thousands seeking better economic conditions in Austria, Germany and other, more wealthy parts of the European Union.

The conference is being attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and Balkan heads of government.

Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed sorrow over the deaths and said they were a chilling reminder of the need to give shelter to migrants fleeing war.

“We are all shaken by this terrible news that up to 50 people have lost their lives because they got into a situation where smugglers did not care about their lives,” Merkel said.

“Such a tragic death,” she added, emphasising the need for Europe to pull together and ease the current crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II.

In his remarks, Faymann said, “This shows once more how necessary it is to save lives and to fight people smugglers.”

“Those who look back to World War II history know that there were people who depended then on asylum” to survive. Today, too, “it saves lives,” he added.

Gerald Tatzgern, who leads an Austrian police team responsible for fighting human trafficking, said police had secured the site where the truck was found. But he said it would take several days for forensics teams to sift through the evidence and, potentially, learn more about the identities of those found dead.

Police are still searching for anyone who might have information about the truck, which had Hungarian licence plates and was found abandoned in an emergency area beside a highway in the Neusiedl am See region, near the Hungarian border.

The Austrian authorities said they were working with the Hungarian police to try to find the driver, who is believed to be from Hungary.

Images in Austrian news media showed a white vehicle, with a rear cooler compartment emblazoned with the word “Hyza” in brown letters, with a chicken standing in for the letter “y”, surrounded by police cars parked at the side of the freeway.

A Slovak-based company by the name of Hyza told the Austrian news agency APA that it had sold more than a dozen of its vehicles in 2014 but had no further knowledge about them.

Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, called it a “dark day,” and urged everyone across the 28-nation European Union to move harshly against human traffickers.

“These are not well-minded helpers,” she said. “They are not concerned with the welfare of the migrants. They care only about profit.”

The discovery of the truck not only threatened to overshadow the conference but also highlighted the continuing divides and dysfunction of the European Union in handling a migration crisis that is straining resources.

Mogherini gave the strongest voice to Europe’s need to act to stop such deaths, “moving from the blame game to real cooperation.”

There is “no magic solution, but the road we can follow to start making things work is very well known,” she said.

“We understand very well that we cannot continue like this – with a moment of silence every time we see someone dying,” she said.

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Henry Sapiecha
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