Dozens of migrants are thought to have been inside a truck found next to a highway south of Vienna. The local police chief has announced that the refugees were most likely dead before they even entered Austria.
Up to 50 migrants whose bodies were discovered in a truck on the side of an Austrian highway on Thursday may have died before they entered the country on Wednesday evening, local police said in a press conference.
Authorities also suspect the perpetrator or perpetrators could have already left Austria, according to Hans Peter Doskozil, chief of police in the Burgenland state.
Doskozil said the truck was thought to have been seen in Budapest on Wednesday, and that “one can maybe assume that the deaths occurred one and a half to two days ago.”
The vehicle found near the Hungarian border, had the markings of a Slovakian poultry company but Hungarian license plates. Officers stopped to approach the truck on Thursday after they had noticed it parked for a long time, thinking it had mechanical trouble. As they got nearer, they noticed “blood dripping” from the vehicle as well as “the smell of dead bodies.”
Police said there were between 20 and 50 corpses inside, but that it would take until Friday morning to determine the exact number of victims. The discovery makes the latest in a string of tragedies as the European Union grapples with unprecedented waves of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa.
Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner called it a “dark day” and reminded the public that “human traffickers are criminals,” not people helping desperate refugees. Her government and Germany have agreed to step up police action against human smuggling.
Hungary blasts EU
As the truck likely left from Hungary, Hungarian police were working with their Austrian counterparts to hunt down the missing driver. The ruling Fidesz party, however, did not miss the opportunity to let their highly critical opinion of European Union strategy be known.
“This tragic event shows how the EU’s migration policy has failed,” the party said in a statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the desired destination of many of the migrants, was in Vienna on Thursday to attend a summit with Balkan leaders which was set to discuss the dangers inherent in refugees trying to reach Western Europe via the west Balkan route. For her part, Merkel said she was “shaken” by the “horrible” tragedy.
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier demands ‘fair distribution’ of refugees
At the start of the Western Balkans summit in Vienna, the German Foreign Minister urged all EU states to ‘do their homework’ in Europe’s refugee crisis. He called for a ‘fair distribution’ of refugees.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier made the comments, which were also tweeted by the German Foreign Office, at an opening news conference for the summit on Thursday morning. He also said that the EU needed to ensure “humane standards” for refugees.
Steinmeier said that without a “fair distribution” of refugees, the EU would jeopardize the support of the people in those countries that take in the lion’s share of refugees in Europe.
He also urged financial assistance for Western Balkan countries like Serbia and Macedonia, who have been struggling to cope with the huge number of migrants trying to cross their borders en route to EU territory.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz recently suggested a five-point plan for an EU-wide refugee policy.
He demands “more speed and action” from EU states for an “integrated approach.” He calls for better cooperation of police forces, buffer zones and EU refugee camps in conflict regions that would allow refugees to apply for asylum outside EU territory. He also suggests a concerted EU effort to define countries of safe origin and calls for a Brussels summit on the issue.
Steinmeier and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel also published their own 10-point plan over the weekend.
The Western Balkans Conference was established in 2013 as a forum aimed at improving ties with Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Motenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo. This year, however, the refugee crisis dominates the agenda.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart, Werner Faymann, are also attending.
OPINION: Registration centers for refugees a good thing
Europe needs a common policy on refugees, and it shouldn’t be modeled on the current situation in Germany, writes DW’s Christoph Hasselbach.
Soft on the inside, hard on the outside. That’s the principle of the Schengen system. Member states open up their inner borders, but only because they’re relying on checks at the EU’s outer borders. But the system isn’t working anymore.
Every day, thousands of refugees from Italy are crossing the border into Austria, and on into Germany. On the Balkans route, refugees cross outer EU borders as many as three times. After arriving in Greece, they are sent to non-EU member Macedonia, despite heavy protests. Macedonia channels the refugees into Serbia. From there, they go to Hungary, back into EU and Schengen territory.
Even though it’s only a transit country, Hungary has had enough and is putting up a fence. That’s upsetting many people in Europe. But the fence doesn’t just allow Hungary to protect itself, but also the EU’s external border, as is expected of it.
Germany is unique
The Dublin Agreement, which states that the first country of contact for refugees is responsible for processing asylum requests, has long become a farce. Italy and Greece, which are the most frequent first points of contact, just ignore Dublin, while the target countries are threatening to start controlling their borders again. Schengen, one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, is in danger.
Given this crisis, it’s not enough to argue about a fairer distribution of refugees. If it’s not part of a comprehensive strategy, it won’t happen. Many states have roundly rejected a quota system. On the other hand, the current voluntary acceptance of refugees cannot continue, because at some point, even the exemplary members Germany and Sweden will reach their limits.
Germany is acting in an exceptional manner at the moment by accepting almost every refugee that comes. Politicians are coming up with suggestions of how to integrate them without even asking if they have a claim to asylum. That’s got to be unique.
Guterres not against deportation
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, has called on Europeans for years to accept more refugees from Syria and Iraq. But he can also tell the difference between war refugees and economic migrants. So if he is among those calling for EU-financed registration points at the bloc’s external borders, that’s saying something.
Officials at these “hot spots” would be tasked not just with registering new arrivals, but also checking their backgrounds. Those who are arriving for economic reasons would not be permitted to enter the EU. Guterres has clearly realized what is at stake both politically and socially in Europe, if the current uncontrolled migration is allowed to continue.
The registration centers need to have a common set of standards. They would ease the burden on the countries of first contact. But they would also ease the burden on countries like Germany, where individual communities are now having to pay the price of the inefficiency at higher levels.
The system would only work, though, if people are willing to accept the uncomfortable side. All arrivals without a valid asylum claim would have to be turned back, as would those people who try to bypass the registration centers, no matter where they end up. Only then will there be more acceptance for fair distribution of those people who are really in need of protection. It would mean that Germany could play by the same rules as all the other member states, and it’s high time that were the case.
Fortress Europe: Migration policy in crisis
The EU’s aim is not to take on more refugees, but to implement better border control. Solidarity with the EU is being pushed to its limits, says DW’s Bernd Riegert.
Europe is a fortress and where the fortress has gaps, one way or another, they’ll be filled. That’s something which refugee organizations and many other well-meaning people in the EU continue to criticize. But EU ministers, who are regularly kept busy with the issue of illegal migration, have been saying for a while, at least under their breath, that the large majority of citizens in the 28 states are against the ever larger number of migrants and refugees.
Faced with increasing numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Lampedusa, coming by train to Rosenheim or camping in Calais at the Eurotunnel, one EU minister – who wishes to remain anonymous – said he couldn’t explain to his constituents that the EU is unable to prevent illegal border crossings.
That certainly sums up the current mood, regardless of whether it fits the facts or not. That’s why EU interior ministers, as well as the EU Commission, aren’t striving to facilitate legal entry to Europe, but instead are focusing on better border management, including the defence of illegal entries on water and land, especially at airports. The fortress of Europe is being strengthened, not weakened – as this has been the case for almost 20 years.
New fences: Hungary wants to stop migrants from crossing the border from Serbia
Fortress expansion making progress
Following the abolition of border control between most EU countries, the external borders have logically been strengthened. In some cases this is done by means of visible border fences, for example in Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and, most recently, Hungary.
Borders are mainly controlled, however, by general electronic “entry and exit” control, the detection of all travelers with visas and identification procedures of all asylum seekers. Over the past decade, the EU has also brought two new controls into action – in Warsaw, the border protection agency Frontex and in Malta, the asylum authority EASO.
Information about those arriving and leaving is collected together in large databases alongside the fingerprints and biometric data of visa holders and asylum seekers. More and more frequently, this data is being correlated with other databases, often linked to criminals or terrorist suspects. Multiple applications for asylum and forged passports or visas are also more easily discovered. European-trained border guards also receive thermal imaging cameras and access to satellite reconnaissance. That, too, is part of the desired fortress mentality.
Unrest within the castle
And yet the systems still aren’t fully functional. Some European states are undermining the envisaged operation. Greece, Italy or Hungary, for example, are either unwilling or unable to detect illegal migrants or properly register asylum seekers. Instead, migrants traveling from the southern countries travel on to Germany, France, Great Britain or Sweden.
Inside the fortress, this has led to growing anxiety. In Germany, the number of migrants and refugees has risen enormously, as German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has repeatedly complained.
The response is clear: Many states who are receiving the majority of immigrants want to change the rules. Instead of requiring migrants to remain in their country of arrival, a quota or distribution system would ensure that all 28 EU countries receive a fair share of migrants, who are deemed either as economically motivated migrants or war refugees.
The existing system, which is named after the Irish capital Dublin, is to be replaced by something new. The “Dublin rule” was invented 25 years ago in order to relocate the security of the fortress to the external borders. The whole thing goes back to the German concept of “safe third countries,” from which a state must not take in any asylum seekers.
Search for offshore outposts
The numbers of migrants in the Mediterranean has become so high that the system is under threat of collapse. Over the past 20 years, the EU has pushed border security onto its outposts – the so-called transit countries. There was an agreement with Libya which, from the perspective of Europeans, successfully cut off the escape route from Africa. Since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, however, the system no longer works. In Morocco on the other hand, the scheme continues to prevent migrants from reaching Spain, which was previously heavily inundated with asylum seekers.
Negotiations with Turkey, through which the main route for migrants runs, have been underway for years, but so far without resounding success. As a result, Greece and Bulgaria have built fences to seal off their borders to Turkey. The effect, however, is that migrants, now larger in numbers, are trying to reach Greece by sea instead of land. Many also board EU-bound planes in Istanbul.
Migration researchers and the High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations (UN) have warned that migrant movement isn’t reduced by fortification, but only diverted; something which has long been recognized by the European Union.
In its annual “risk analysis” border protection agency Frontex said the number of people who want to come to Europe in the coming years will indeed come and will continue to increase. According to Frontex, the reasons for people fleeing their home country – for example, the war in Syria, the dictatorship in Eritrea, poverty in many parts of Africa or the lack of prospects in Kosovo – will also remain.
EU interior ministers have repeatedly ignored these forecasts. They have focused on building fortress, instead of preparing for the intake of more people. The situation in Calais or on the Greek island of Kos or even the migrant camps in German cities cannot be explained any other way. It’s time for those within the fortress, to provide for those arriving.
Back to small fortresses and internal borders?
And in future? Immigration policy, asylum grants and the reception of refugees will remain in the sovereign powers of the member states. Everyone will make sure that they take in as few migrants as possible. The discord between states, however, will increase. Hostile sentiments towards migration in Denmark, the UK, France, Hungary and elsewhere will increase as the pressure grows. The attacks on refugee accommodation in Germany are bad, but in this context not really a surprise.
The endangered fortress could react inwardly with conflicts among member states, signs of which have already been seen. Denmark tried years ago to control its border with Germany more visibly. France also temporarily closed its border with Italy on the Riviera.
The UK has also accused France of not sufficiently protecting access to the Eurotunnel in Calais. Similarly, Italy has publicly accused eastern European EU member states of showing a lack of solidarity, due to the relatively few number of immigrants being accepted there.
When the pressure increases in the future, it may well be that the states have second thoughts on their sovereignty at the borders and want to protect their own little fortress. The freedom to travel without identity checks in the countries of the so-called “Schengen Area” could be in danger. Could the issue of migration, regardless of all the social problems, be a political bomb for the EU?