IOM on Latest Austrian Truck Tragedy

Posted: 
08/28/15
Themes: 
Missing Migrants

Austria -  IOM joins the international community in condemning the shameful act of neglect that the Austrian authorities say resulted in the suffocation of some 71 migrants in the back of a tractor trailer in Austria. The victims were discovered Thursday.

“The extent of the tragedy is much bigger than expected on Thursday,” said Katerina  Kratzmann, IOM Austria’s Chief of Mission. “On Friday morning the speaker of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Alexander Marakovits, announced the number of people who died. The bodies included 60 men, 8 women and 3 children."

Police are searching for the driver of the lorry and are confident they will find him. “On a political level, the consequences of this tragedy are currently being discussed, including legal changes to tighten regulations on smuggling, as well as increasing controls and measures at the EU-level,” she added.

IOM Austria reports that in 2014, the country received around 28,000 applications for international protection (asylum), a number that was reached this year by the end of June. Kratzmann said projections for this year are for 80,000 asylum applications.

She added these details of the grisly crime scene: “When the police arrived, liquid of decay was already running out of the truck. The police think that the people died approximately between 36 and 48 hours before and that some might have been dead already when crossing the border from Hungary. The lorry was in Hungary on Wednesday night, and crossed into Austria before dawn the following morning. The lorry has a Hungarian license plate and a logo of a Slovak chicken processing company. According to the Slovak company, they sold 13 lorries in the last year. The number plate was requested by a Romanian person in the Hungarian town of Kecskemét.”

Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin of IOM’s office in Hungary said:  “They certainly came along the Western Balkan route, and had actually reached the ‘safety’ of the Schengen zone, only to die within hours of reaching their destination. They have resorted to smugglers, as no other means of transport – such as train or bus – is available to them. Migrants are routinely taken off trains and buses bound for Austria and Germany from Hungary.”

She added that on Wednesday a record number – over 3,200 migrants – crossed into Hungary, including almost 700 children.

In the Netherlands, IOM Chief of Mission Martin Wyss pointed out that what happened in the truck in Austria is “a stark reminder of the tragedy that took the lives of 58 Chinese in Dover 15 years ago.”

The so-called Dover Incident occurred on 18 June 2000, when just before midnight, 58 bodies were found in a Dutch lorry in the port town. Two survivors were found, apparently after the lorry came from a ferry that had arrived from Zeebrugge in Belgium. The 60 immigrants, all Chinese, had been trapped in the container for more than 18 hours. Similar deaths of migrants have been reported in recent years in Mexico as well as the southwestern United States.

IOM’s Wyss explained: “This crime then directly triggered the Palermo conference which led to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the famous trafficking and smuggling protocols. It is fair to say that this joint UN effort against smuggling has failed.”

IOM continues to monitor the transit of migrants across the Balkans.

“In the absence of a managed migration strategy, the deaths, reportedly, of dozens of victims who suffocated in the back of a truck in Austria this week, remind all of us of the consequences of leaving those seeking safety and a better life at the mercy of human smugglers,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “Just as we have seen on the Mediterranean for these last three years, just as we have heard of similar tragedies in the Sahara, the specter of death now haunts the European continent. Something must be done, and soon, to make all migration legal and safe.”

For further information please contact Katerina Kratzmann, IOM Austria, Tel: +43 1 585 33 22 27, Email: kkratzmann@iom.int. Or Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin, IOM Hungary, Tel: + +3614722519, Email: mmajkowska@iom.int. Or Balazs Lehel, IOM Hungary, Tel: +36 1 472 25 08, Email: blehel@iom.int