VIENNA – Austrian police found as many as 50 dead refugees left in an abandoned truck on a highway near Vienna, sparking international calls to deal with the flood of migrants to the European Union.
The refrigerator truck with Hungarian license plates was left Wednesday night in the emergency turnout of the A4 highway from Budapest between Neusiedl and Parndorf, 50 km (31 miles) east of Vienna, Burgenland police chief Hans Peter Doskozil told Austrian television.
Police checking the vehicle around 11:40 a.m. opened the back doors after noticing a stench and blood dripping out and found the bodies. Police found no survivors and the exact number of corpses couldn’t be determined yet, Doskozil said. The truck was brought to a former veterinary center in Nickelsdorf on the Austro-Hungarian border for examination by forensic specialists, he said.
“We are all shaken by the terrible news that as many as 50 people have lost their lives,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists on Thursday in Vienna, where she met Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and leaders from other Balkan countries at a summit that had the refugee crisis high on the agenda.
European governments are bickering over how to deal with a refugee surge that’s straining shelter capacity Germany and other countries. Serbia, which isn’t in the EU, has confronted thousands of migrants headed north from Greece on its border with the Republic of Macedonia. EU member Hungary has constructed a razor-wire fence to block refugees from entering.
Merkel called on European Union leaders to take speedy action to alleviate the continent’s refugee crisis. She and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier renewed their call to share the burden of aiding refugees throughout the EU’s 28 member states following the rejection of binding quotas by some European nations.
“This is a warning for us to tackle the issue of migration quickly,” Merkel said at the conference on EU-Balkan relations in Vienna. “We have more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II. The world’s eyes are upon us.”
Forensic experts will open the truck and attempt to determine the number of dead and identify the corpses until Thursday morning, Doskozil said. The number is likely to exceed 20 and could be as high as 40 or 50, he said. They may have been dead for a day and a half and were probably dead when the truck entered Austria, he said.
The truck is decorated with pictures of chicken and slogans like “Honest Chicken” and “I taste so good because they feed me so well,” advertising Slovak chicken meat company Hyza, a company owned by Agrofert Holding AS. An Agrofert spokesman told Czech newswire CTK that Hyza’s trucks were all in Slovakia and the vehicle may have been sold in the past.
The Hungarian license plates were obtained by a Romanian citizen in the central Hungarian city of Kecskemet, according to Janos Lazar, the minister in charge of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office. The truck started early Wednesday south of Budapest and arrived near the Austrian border before noon, according to data from the Hungarian road toll system, Doskozil said.
Austria and Hungary are along one of the main routes for refugees into the European Union, the “Balkan route,” which goes from Turkey through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. The former Yugoslav republic criticized the EU for failing to stem the wave of refugees flowing through the Balkans, saying the region is paying for the bloc’s inability to handle the crisis.
“It’s a European Union problem, but we’re expected to come up with an action plan,” Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told conference attendees.
“I have to be very direct here, please understand. We bear the brunt of the burden.”
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