INTERNATIONAL – 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, 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 today 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.
“Recent days have brought yet more news of hundreds of refugees and migrants drowning in perilous journeys on the sea,” he continued and noted that despite the concerted and commendable efforts of the joint European search and rescue operation – which has saved tens of thousands of lives – the Mediterranean Sea continues to be a death trap for refugees and migrants.
Further, such repeated tragedies underscore the ruthlessness of people smugglers and traffickers whose criminal activities extend from the Andaman Sea to the Mediterranean to the highways of Europe. It also highlights the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life.
The UN refugee agency expressed deep shock and sadness over yesterday’s grim discovery of some 70 dead asylum-seekers inside a truck abandoned near the Austrian border with Hungary – stressing the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe. “I appeal to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations,” said Mr. Ban
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 this 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.
“Fear of police detection makes many of them rush through the razor wires, sustaining cuts and injuries in the process. UNHCR staff at the border report that many people are arriving on wheelchairs pushed by relatives, while others are in need of urgent medical assistance,” Ms. Fleming elaborated.
New arrivals are taken by the authorities to a pre-registration centre in Röszke – near the Serbian border, some 184 kilometres away from the capital, Budapest – where the police search and record their details, before sending them further inland to registration centres. The exhausted, hungry and thirsty people who have spent many days on the road are kept in mandatory detention between 12 and 36 hours, and then handed over to the Office of Immigration and Nationality to process their asylum claims.
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.
“Many refugees and migrants choose to leave Hungary for other countries in Europe,” Ms. Fleming explained. “Every day up to 500 people sleep at the two main train stations in Budapest where volunteers look after their basic needs, including food, clothing and urgent medical attention, and where the city authorities give them access to sanitation facilities.
To provide more adequate accommodation, UNHCR is offering technical advice to city authorities who plan to open a transit facility.