Three Bulgarians and one Afghani citizen suspected of transporting 71 refugees, who were found dead in a truck in Austria, have appeared in court in Hungary.
A prosecution spokesman told journalists the four faced human trafficking charges involving torture and targeting financial gain.
The 71 victims included eight women and four children – the youngest a girl between one and two years old and three boys aged eight to ten.
Many of the bodies had decomposed, suggesting they had been dead for several days in the back of the air-tight refrigerated lorry that usually carried frozen chicken.
Prosecutors said they wanted the three Bulgarians and one Afghan remanded in custody due to the ‘exceptional nature of the crime, the subsequent deaths of the smuggled persons and the perpetration of the criminal act of people-smuggling in a businesslike manner.’
The deaths caused an international outcry as hundreds of thousands of migrants continue to flee conflict zones in search of sanctity in the European Union.
When the lorry was discovered, police thought the parked vehicle had broken down with a mechanical problem.
However, when they approached the vehicle, they realised the back door had been secured shut with wires.
Its refrigeration system showed no signs of having been switched on and there were no vents to allow fresh air inside.The victims had been wearing light summer clothes.
Officers recalled seeing ‘blood dripping’ from the vehicle and ‘noticed the smell of dead bodies,’ Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of police in Burgenland province, said.
Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the tragedy ‘should serve as a wake-up call… for joint European action’ in dealing with the torrent of migrants flocking to Europe.
Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva called the tragedy ‘absolutely shocking.’
‘We believe this underscores the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe.
It shows they have absolutely no regard for human life, and that they are only after profit,’ she said.
‘It also shows the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe, and their only means is to submit themselves to these criminals.’
It is believed that the migrants boarded the truck in Serbia and were transported across the Hungarian border and through into Austria.
The truck apparently used to belong to the Slovak chicken meat company Hyza, part of the Agrofert Holding, which is owned by Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis.
Agrofert Holding, in a statement, said they had sold the truck in 2014.
The new owners did not remove the truck’s logos as required and Hyza had nothing to do with the truck now, the company said.
On one side of the truck was the slogan ‘Honest chicken,’ while writing on the back read ‘I taste so good because they feed me so well.’
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said that the European Union had to tighten immigration inspections to prevent future similar disasters. (Daily-mail)