Aus­tria mi­grant tragedy sus­pects ap­pear in court


Four de­fen­dants ap­peared in court in Hungary on Satur­day over Aus­tria’s mi­grant truck tragedy, as a “hor­ri­fied and heart­bro­ken” U.N. chief called for con­certed ac­tion to end Europe’s refugee cri­sis.

Po­lice be­lieve the three Bul­gar­i­ans and one Afghan held over the 71 deaths to be low-rank­ing mem­bers of one of the nu­mer­ous hu­man traf­fick­ing gangs that many of the tens of thou­sands of mi­grants com­ing to Europe pay for help.

Re­act­ing to the grue­some Aus­trian find and a new Mediter­ranean shipwreck, U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said Fri­day that the mi­grant cri­sis is a “hu­man tragedy that re­quires a de­ter­mined col­lec­tive po­lit­i­cal re­sponse.”

“I ap­peal to all gov­ern­ments in­volved to pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive re­sponses, ex­pand safe and le­gal chan­nels of mi­gra­tion and act with hu­man­ity, com­pas­sion and in ac­cor­dance with their in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions.”

The aban­doned truck, found Thurs­day on an Aus­trian mo­tor- way in the bak­ing sun near the Hungary bor­der, con­tained the tightly packed, de­com­pos­ing bod­ies of 59 men, eight women and four chil­dren in­clud­ing a lit­tle girl. They were thought to be Syr­i­ans.

Spark­ing re­vul­sion across Europe, the tragic dis­cov­ery high­lighted the dan­gers faced by peo­ple flee­ing con­flict and hard­ship in the Mid­dle East and Africa even once they reach Europe, with many putting their fate in the hands of profit-hun­gry peo­ple smug­glers.

It came as yet another boat crammed with des­per­ate mi­grants sank in the Mediter­ranean off Libya.

The coast­guard hiked Satur­day the death toll to 111 but said that “dozens” were still miss­ing. A to­tal of 198 among the 400 on board have been res­cued.

The United Na­tions es­ti­mates 300,000 peo­ple have fled con­flict and hard­ship in the Mid­dle East and Africa for a bet­ter life in Europe this year, and 2,500 more have died in the at­tempt, mostly in the Mediter­ranean.

“My lit­tle sis­ter, some­one climbed on her back and pushed her down. When I saw her for the last time, she was un­der­wa­ter with him on top of her,” Pak­istani She­faz Hamza, 17, a sur­vivor who also lost his mother in the latest tragedy, told AFP in Libya.

‘Busi­nesslike’ Traf­fick­ing

In Hungary, the four men in­clud­ing the truck’s al­leged owner and driv­ers ar­rived Satur­day af­ter­noon at the court in Kecskemet, some 100 kilo­me­ters (60 miles) north of the Ser­bian bor­der that some 140,000 have crossed this year.

Pros­e­cu­tors said they wanted the four re­manded in cus­tody for a month due to the “ex­cep­tional na­ture of the crime, the sub­se­quent deaths of the smug­gled per­sons and the per­pe­tra­tion of the crim­i­nal act of peo­ple-smug­gling in a busi­nesslike man­ner.”

The four sus­pects — two of them ap­pear­ing to be in their 30s and the oth­ers around 50 — were in sep­a­rate po­lice cars that swooped in a con­voy into the court­yard. They were led in­side in hand­cuffs.

Aus­trian mo­tor­way main­te­nance work­ers alerted po­lice af­ter notic­ing “de­com­pos­ing body flu­ids” drip­ping from the truck. TV im­ages showed flies buzzing around the back of the ve­hi­cle.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, ap­peal­ing to­gether with Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Werner Fay­mann for a swift re­form of Euro­pean rules to share out mi­grants more fairly among the 28-strong EU, called it a “warn­ing” to Europe.

Fay­mann said Fri­day that EU sub­si­dies to EU mem­bers that op­pose such a move — which in­clude eastern mem­bers of the bloc and Bri­tain — should po­ten­tially be cut “to in­crease the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure.”

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