Austrian police confirm final death toll, saying the refugees included eight women and four children.by Al Jazeera
Austrian authorities say three people have been arrested in Hungary after the bodies of 71 refugees were found in a truck abandoned on a motorway.
Police had originally put the death toll at between 20 and 50 after the truck was found on Thursday, but Austrian officials revised the figure upwards on Friday.
Speaking at a press conference in Eisenstadt, Austrian police official Hans Peter Doskozil said the dead comprised 59 men, 8 women and four children, including a young infant.
He said it was likely that those in the truck suffocated.
Of the three arrested, one is a Bulgarian who is believed to have owned the vehicle. The others, a Bulgarian and another with Hungarian documents, are “pretty certain to be those who drove the vehicle,” Doskozil said.
Officials said they hoped the three would lead them to others responsible for trafficking the dead across Europe.
The truck, found on Thursday, had travelled to Austria from Hungary. The partly decomposed bodies were piled on top of each other in a cargo container in the vehicle, parked off the highway in Burgenland state.
The shocking discovery cast a shadow over talks in Vienna, where Europe’s leaders had gathered on Thursday to discuss the mounting refugee crisis on the continent.
“We were all shaken by the horrible news that up to 50 people died … these were people coming to seek safety,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, prior to the new toll being released.
“This is a warning to work to resolve this problem and show solidarity.”
The conference held a minute of silence to commemorate the dead.
This year has seen record numbers of people trying to reach the EU by sea and land as they flee conflicts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
In Austria, the number of asylum requests rose above 28,300 between January and June alone – as many as for the whole of 2014 – and officials expect the total to reach 80,000 this year.
The Western Balkans conference was called to find a common European answer to the refugee crisis that is overwhelming some countries while leaving others relatively unaffected.
At the summit, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz floated elements of a five-point plan that foresees establishing safe havens in the refugees’ home countries where those seeking asylum in the EU could be processed and – if they qualify – be given safe passage to Europe.
Beyond safe havens, possibly protected by troops acting under a UN mandate, the Austrian plan to be submitted to EU decision-makers foresees increased controls on Europe’s outer borders and coordinated action against human smuggling.
It also calls for refugee quotas for each of the EU’s 28 members – something that many countries have opposed.
EU members Greece and Italy, and non-EU Balkan countries such as Macedonia and Serbia – whose leaders attended the summit – are dealing with the initial refugee burden through sea and land routes. But many of these refugees are only in transit to western European countries.
Nearly 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean this year with at least 2,373 “migrants and refugees” dying in a bid to reach Europe, nearly 300 more than the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).