Friday, August 28, 2015

EUROPE - Migrants

"Grisly Discovery in Migrant Crisis Shocks Europe" by ALISON SMALE and MELISSA EDDY, New York Times 8/27/2015


The legions of desperate migrants fleeing war and mayhem in the Middle East and Africa have long known they were risking harm from unscrupulous smugglers and death at sea to reach the safety of Europe.  But it became shockingly clear on Thursday that they now face the same dangers within Europe’s own borders.

A white truck filled with the decomposing bodies of as many as 50 smuggled migrants was found abandoned on the outskirts of Vienna in the summer heat.  The discovery came just as European leaders were meeting in a nearby palace to devise new ways to cope with the migration crisis.

News about the corpses instantly overshadowed the meeting and transfixed Europe with new worries that the scope and complexity of the crisis had escalated.

European Union officials have been struggling for ways to control the tens of thousands of migrants who are now reaching the continent, without forfeiting the free movement between member countries that is a fundamental part of life in the 28-nation bloc.  Now its members are confronting human traffickers who are exploiting the open borders.

“We are all shaken by this terrible news that up to 50 people have lost their lives because they got into a situation where smugglers did not care about their lives,” said Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, at a news conference at the Vienna meeting.  “Such a tragic death.”

Ms. Merkel emphasized what she called the need for Europe to pull together and ease the migration crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II.  But the meeting ended on a discordant note with no apparent consensus on how to proceed.

The death toll at sea is already greater than 2,500 and is rising almost every day, with news reports on Thursday that a ship carrying hundreds of migrants had sunk off the coast of Libya.  Now the truck discovery has made it clear that the illegal trade in humans has broadened from arranging perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to profiteering from the tens of thousands now pouring in through the Balkans.

Until recently, the flow was mostly restricted to the southern countries, particularly Italy. But as new routes through Greece and the Balkans have become popular, the pressure to stem the flow has broadened and deepened.

The people in the truck were thought to be among the migrants on their way through Central Europe and toward the wealthier countries — particularly Germany — in the north.

The precise death toll had yet to be determined by Thursday night, but more than 20 bodies — and as many as 50 — were believed to be in the truck, said Hans Peter Doskozil, director of the police in the eastern state of Burgenland.  He added that the count was hindered by the advanced state of decomposition.

The discovery was made after a highway worker alerted the police around 11:40 a.m. that the truck, with Hungarian license plates, was parked in the emergency lane of a highway that links Budapest and Vienna, in the Neusiedl am See region, near the Hungarian border.  Mr. Doskozil said the truck had probably set off from east of Budapest on Wednesday, and was abandoned either late that night or early Thursday.

Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said that the authorities believed the truck had been part of a human trafficking operation, and that the victims “were illegal migrants who were trying to reach the West through Hungary or with the help of Hungarians.”

Hungarian officials said they had assigned investigators to help the Austrians with the case.

Mr. Doskozil said the investigators would comb the cab of the truck to establish the identity of the driver.  By afternoon, the authorities said the truck had been towed to an undisclosed location where the bodies could be removed and identified.

“It is clear that this is a case of organized criminality where a lot of money is at stake and business is made out of human suffering,” Mr. Doskozil said.

The discovery was a new twist on a summer of tragedy for migrants, who have drowned at sea by the hundreds and been injured or worse in accidents during their attempts to reach safety and jobs in the European Union.

Just a day earlier, Italian officials announced the discovery of 50 bodies in the hold of a ship that appeared to have departed Libya bound for Italy.

The Balkan overland route has replaced the Mediterranean passage as the favored route for migrants this summer.  The change has severely affected Austria, which has been struggling to cope with the masses of migrants, and officials have grown increasingly concerned about smugglers.

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