Four children including a baby girl were among 71 refugees found dead in the back of a lorry left abandoned at the side of a motorway in Austria, police say.
Austrian police said on Friday that three Bulgarians and an Afghan had been arrested in Hungary in relation to the tragedy, and that there were “signs” that a Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficking ring was behind the deaths.
Police found the dead refugees, some of whom are thought to have travelled from Syria, in the back of the refrigerated lorry in eastern Austria on Thursday. It is thought they died from suffocation as the truck’s insulating layers prevented air from entering the compartment.
Among the dead were 59 men, eight women and four children including a one or two-year old-girl and three boys aged roughly eight to 10 years old.
The vehicle had come to Austria from Hungary and is believed to have been parked on the highway for at least 24 hours before it was discovered. The bodies had decomposed to the extent that fluids were leaking out of the back of the vehicle.
Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reported from the scene on Thursday that the “smell of death” hung in the air.
At a news conference in the town of Eisenstadt, Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief for the province of Burgenland, said one Syrian travel document had been found among the victims but that it was too early to say where everyone in the group came from.
“We currently have three people under arrest in Hungary… and expect that that this is the trace that will lead us to the perpetrators,” Mr Doskozil told reporters.
He said the people being held were not the ringleaders.They are understood to be three Bulgarians and one Afghan citizen.
Thousands of people from countries like Afghanistan or Syria have fled through the Balkans to Austria, pushing the number of asylum requests to 28,300 in the first six months of this year – more than the total for all of 2014.
Channel 4 News has been travelling with migrants as they make the gruelling journey across Europe.
Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the best way to handle the refugee crisis was to create legal pathways into Europe, rather than stricter border controls.