BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian police said on Sunday they had arrested a fifth suspect, a Bulgarian citizen, in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants whose bodies were found in an abandoned refrigeration truck on a highway in Austria last week.
An unprecedented number of people from the Middle East and Africa are undertaking perilous journeys to reach Europe by land and sea. Hundreds have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.
Austrian police said on Sunday that forensic examiners had performed autopsies on 16 of the bodies of refugees and presumed they suffocated.
Three Bulgarians and one Afghan citizen are already under arrest pending an investigation in Hungary. They face up to 16 years in prison for trafficking in Hungary plus murder charges in Austria.
The Bulgarian man was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, police said in a statement, without giving further details.
Another truckload of refugees, including three children, narrowly escaped death when they were discovered in Austria on Saturday.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused eastern European states, notably Hungary, on Sunday of a “scandalous” policy towards refugees going against the values of the European Union, while British Interior Minister Theresa May said Europe’s borderless system was exacerbating a migrant crisis.
The International Organization for Migration estimates a third of a million people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, leaving from Libya, Turkey and other countries to land in Europe.
Police filings in Hungary in the last few days illustrate the sheer scale and the variety of nationalities involved in human trafficking operations.
On Sunday, Hungarian police stopped a Romanian truck on a motorway and found 41 migrants crammed onto the cargo deck. The Romanian driver was detained.
A Lithuanian man was detained on Saturday when police stopped him outside Budapest with 12 Syrians in his vehicle. The same day, an Austrian citizen was arrested on the motorway between Budapest and Vienna for driving five Syrians, and a Polish citizen was detained for driving seven Syrians in a French-registered car.
On Friday, three Hungarian men were caught transporting 19 Syrians in their van, and on Aug 28, three vehicles with Italian license plates driven by Serbian men were held up in the early morning hours in a remote rural road in southern Hungary. The lead car, a van and a small truck carried a total of 69 Syrians and 12 Iraqis.
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Reporting by Marton Dunai; Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in Vienna; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky