A police officer checking on what he thought was a broken down truck near Parndorf, Austria, on Thursday came across a gruesome scene when he found between 20 and 50 badly decomposed bodies of migrants in the back of the truck.
In recent months, tens of thousands of migrants have flooded Europe in a bid to escape conflict and deteriorating security in the Middle East and Central and Northern Africa. These migrants often fall prey to human traffickers, and fatalities are very common, especially for those attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. But this recent discovery sent shock waves through the global community.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and several Balkan heads of government were some 25 miles away attending a conference to discuss how to handle the influx of migrants, the New York Times reported.
“This reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find solutions in the spirit of solidarity,” Merkel said.
“This is a warning for us to tackle the issue of migration quickly," she added. "We have more refugees in the world than at any time since the second world war. The world’s eyes are upon us.”
Though it’s unclear where the truck came from, the migrants had apparently died from suffocation, The Guardian reported.
“The deaths already occurred some time ago,” said Hans Peter Doskozil, head of police in the district of Burgenland. "We can make no concrete assumptions about the origin or cause [of death]. We can assume, however, that they are refugees.”
The surge of migrants has created a veritable humanitarian crisis in Europe and has helped fuel the rise of nationalism. The strain on resources is often cited as a reason, but there’s evidence outright racism is also a factor. A senior member of the intellectual circles that surround Hungary’s prime minister recently said the skin color of these migrants is a “problem,” High Plains Public Radio reported.
The political turmoil surrounding how to handle the influx of migrants didn’t detract from the tragedy of today’s discovery, which remains under investigation. Much of the horror has transformed into anger over the apparent role of human traffickers.
“Smugglers are criminals," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in a statement. "They have no interest in the welfare of refugees. Only profit.”
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said it was now critical for the European Union and other nations to work together. "Today refugees lost the lives they had tried to save by escaping, but lost them in the hand of traffickers," he said.
Amnesty International blames the European Union for the migrants’ deaths — not just those who were found in the truck, but also for the thousands who have perished while seeking refuge.
"People dying in their dozens — whether crammed into a truck or a ship — en route to seek safety or better lives is a tragic indictment of Europe's failures to provide alternative routes," the group said a statement. "Europe has to step up and provide protection to more, share responsibility better and show solidarity to other countries and to those most in need."
The bodies of 51 migrants were found adrift off the coast of Libya on Wednesday.
“We understand very well that we cannot continue like this — with a moment of silence every time we see someone dying,” Mogherini said.