Police on Friday revised upward to 71 the number of dead found inside a truck abandoned on the hard shoulder of a highway in Austria.
The airtight freezer truck, bearing the logo of the Slovak poultry producer Hyza, was discovered on a highway near the Hungarian border on Thursday (27 Aug). Initially, investigators believed there were between 20 and 50 decomposing bodies inside.
However, Austrian police have now confirmed the death toll is of 71 people, including 59 men, eight women and four children who appear to have suffocated on their journey from Hungary.
The news comes as Hungarian authorities on Friday said they had apprehended four men, three Bulgarians and one Afghan, who are suspected of being part of a clandestine migrant smuggling network ferrying people across the border with Austria. On Sunday, they announced the arrest of a fifth person, a Bulgarian national.
The grisly discovery in the heart of the continent has intensified discussions within the EU on the ongoing migration crisis which has seen the biggest movement of people through Europe since World War II.
The highway where the truck was found happens to be one of the main routes into Europe from the Western Balkans. Many of the asylum seekers landing on Greece after voyaging from Turkey cross the Balkans to Hungary and from there to Austria where they typically settle or move on to Germany or Scandinavia.
Around 3,000 people a day are currently traversing this route according to the, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The surge has attracted criminal networks which offer smuggling services all along the route. Austrian police, which like their Italian counterparts dealing with a surge of people coming from Libya are focused on tackling the criminals profiting from the smuggling trade, estimate that between €3,000 and €5,000 is paid for a trip from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, where most of the people going through the Balkans come from.
The spike has provoked a draconian reaction from the Hungarian government which is in the final stages of sealing its border with Serbia with a four-metre fence, along with a raft of punitive measures that will earn anyone caught ripping through the fence up to four years in prison.