Three arrested in discovery of 71 migrants’ bodies in Austria

Austrian officials say they have arrested three people connected to the discovery of 71 bodies of migrants found in a truck trailer on an Austrian highway near the border with Hungary.

Officials said early Friday that two of those arrested are Bulgarian, while the third has Hungarian identity papers.

Austrian police also say their initial estimate of the number of dead was too low.  On Thursday they announced 20 to 50 victims had been found; on Friday the number was raised to 71. The victims – 59 men, eight women, and four children – are believed to have suffocated in the refrigerated truck.

The chief of police of Austria’s Burgenland province, where the bodies were found, said a Syrian travel document was found among the bodies, suggesting that at least some of the victims were fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Vienna meeting

Thursday’s discovery of the bodies came as western Balkan leaders met in Vienna to discuss ways to stem Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among leaders attending the summit.

Merkel called the discovery a warning to Europe to come to grips with the migrant crisis, which this year has reached an intensity not seen since World War II.

Serbia and Macedonia have become major transit countries for tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach European Union countries.

Last week, Macedonia, which currently is dealing with 3,000 migrants arriving every day from EU member Greece, declared a state of emergency.

EU members Greece and Italy, and non-EU Balkan countries such as Macedonia and Serbia, are dealing with much of the initial refugee burden through sea and land routes. But many of the migrants are destined for Western European countries, among them Germany and Austria.

Austrian plan

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz suggested a five-point plan Thursday that foresees establishing safe havens in the region where those seeking asylum in the EU could be processed and — if they qualify — be given safe passage to Europe.

Kurz spoke on the sidelines of the conference that is primarily focused on ways of getting a grip on the migrant influx that threatens to overwhelm some countries while leaving others relatively unaffected.

Beyond safe havens, to be protected by troops acting under a U.N. mandate, the Austrian plan to be submitted to EU decision makers foresees increased controls on Europe’s outer borders and coordinated action against human smuggling.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling on all governments to respond compassionately to the human tide of people who have been displaced from their homelands and are now seeking safety.

More than 250,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Nearly 2,400 people have died making the journey.