In the wake of the grim discovery of the bodies of more than 70 people inside a truck abandoned near Austria’s border with Hungary, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the world to come together to provide comprehensive responses to migration issues, including tackling smugglers and resolving ongoing conflicts, among other root causes.
“I am horrified and heartbroken at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, declared the Secretary-General following the discovery of the bodies in the abandoned vehicle, and upon hearing reports that many of the victims were Syrian asylum seekers – including children.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Melissa Fleming said, “this tragedy shows people smugglers have no regard for human life and are only after profit. It also underscores the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe.”
Austrian police say that they believe the truck came from Hungary and entered Austria on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, and that the victims might have been dead for one or two days. Their identity is still unknown but it is presumed that they were being transported by smugglers.
After establishing that there were no survivors, the police closed the truck and moved it to another location for further investigations.
UNHCR expressed its hope that this incident will result in strong cooperation among European police forces, intelligence agencies and international organisations to crack down on the smuggling trade while putting in place measures to protect and care for victims.
Ms. Fleming reiterated UNHCR’s call to European countries to approach the refugee crisis “in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation and to provide those seeking safety in Europe with safe legal alternatives – including resettlement or humanitarian admission programmes, flexible visa policies and family reunification – to dangerous irregular voyages.”
Every day last week, the Hungarian border police intercepted more than 2,000 people crossing the border from Serbia. On Wednesday, police reported 3,241 new arrivals, including 700 children – the highest number in a single day so far this year.
Syrian refugees constitute the majority of the asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children. They travel in large groups of over 200 – walking along rail tracks or crawling under barbed wire – as work continues on a 175 kilometres long wall at the Hungarian-Serbian border.
With a maximum capacity of 5,000 people, Hungary’s four reception centres are overcrowded, causing long waits and further exacerbating asylum-seekers’ angst. The Hungarian police do not have social workers or enough interpreters in Arabic, Dari, Pashto and Urdu, which makes communication difficult.
According to the latest official statistics, so far this year more than 140,000 people have sought asylum in Hungary, compared to 42,000 people last year. Most of those lodging asylum applications are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and they include some 7,000 unaccompanied children.