27 Aug 2015

Refugees found ‘suffocated’ in parked lorry in Austria

Up to 50 refugees are found dead in a parked lorry in eastern Austria. On the scene Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum says there’s a “terrible” stench of death.

Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum, at the scene, reported a “terrible” smell of death around the lorry.

It is understood the truck had been parked at the side of the road for an extended period of time. The Austrian newspaper Krone reported that early indications were that the refugees had died of suffocation.

“Unfortunately there are many dead people in there,” an interior ministry spokesman said. The state of the bodies made establishing an exact number difficult, police said.

By Thursday afternoon forensics teams were examining the lorry, which had Hungarian number plates. Police said they were searching for the driver.

50 refugees found dead in Austria lorry

A police spokesman said in a press conference that “it could be 50 people” inside the lorry. “We can assume that it could be 20 people who

died. It could also be 40, it could be 50 people,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people have been making their way across Europe, fleeing violence – many of them from Syria and Afghanistan.

It is understood that the lorry’s licence plates are Hungarian, and Hungarian authorities are helping the Austrians to try and locate the driver.

Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum, at the scene, says: When we drove past the white truck with Hyza on the side I thought it was a traffic accident. We were heading from Budapest to Vienna for a Balkans summit where they are to discuss the refugee crisis. 

We've just spent the week travelling with Syrian and Afghan refugees from Greece through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary - we passed a few more on the road this morning. Then we heard that a truck had been found containing as many as 50 dead refugees - they had suffocated when travelling, crushed in the back, having arrived in the European Union.

We circled back and tried to film the truck but the Austrian police wouldn't let us. We drove by and any doubts I had had about whether this was the right truck were quelled - the smell of death was appalling. It wafted across the motorway - the terrible stench of lives ended, including children, whose parents thought they were escaping death, not heading towards it.

Everyone we've met on this odyssey had pinned their hopes on reaching Austria or Germany. The Hungarian authorities wouldn't let them take the train north from Budapest without passports, so the only way was to pay a taxi or, if they couldn't afford that, a truck to Austria.

People smugglers were charging 400 or 500 euros for the trip. Presumably, these families did exactly that. Reports in the Austrian media say the people banged on the roof and sides to say they were suffocating, but the driver - who has since fled - didn't stop. So they perished here, at the side of a motorway, in the European Union. I wonder if they'll talk about it at their summit in Vienna.

Lindsey Hilsum has been joining refugees on their long journey. Watch her latest report, from Hungary, here.

Head of police, Hans Peter Doskozil said “It has been standing there already since yesterday. From the back part desintegration fluid was already drippling outside.”

“The police patrol on site stated that there were dead people inside or had been before. It is clear that there are dead people inside the lorry.”

The Austrian Interior Minister said it was a “dark day” for the country.

“Our thoughts are with the victims, with the families lof the victims and their firiends. This tragedy touches us all.”

“We all know that the smugglers in human trafficking are criminals, and who still thinks that they are gentleminded escape helpers is somebody one cannot help any more.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference in Vienna: “We are of course all shaken by the appalling news. This reminds us that we must tackle quickly the issue of immigration and in a European spirit – that means in a spirit of solidarity – and to find solutions.”