The Austrian government says the number of dead found in a truck trailer full of refugees on an Austrian highway is higher than first estimated, with 70 or more victims now believed to have suffocated during their journey.
Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits on Friday told reporters that at least 70 people were found lifeless inside the trailer, which was on a highway near the Austrian borders with Hungary and Slovakia.
Thursday’s discovery 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 “horrible” discovery a warning to Europe to come to grips with the migrant crisis. “This is a warning to work to resolve this problem and show solidarity,” she added.
Serbia and FYROM have become major transit countries for tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach European Union countries in recent months.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told the leaders that as a transit country, Serbia is expected to come up with an action plan, but “I think the European Union has to come up with a plan first.”
“I have to be very direct here. Please understand, we are bearing the brunt of the problem,” Dacic said.
His comments were echoed by FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki.
Last week, FYROM, which currently is dealing with 3,000 migrants arriving every day from EU member Greece, declared a state of emergency.
“We are not going to do the job with the 90,000 euros ($100,000) that we have received so far, Poposki said. “Unless we have a European answer to this issue, none of us should be under any illusion that this will be solved.”
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 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.
Germany believes it could receive as many as 750,000 migrants this year, and much smaller Austria estimates corresponding per capita figures.
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.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn suggested resistance against all-EU quotas is wearing down.
“We’re going to have a quota settlement approach, and in light of recent developments, I believe all 28 member-states are now ready to accept and approve that,” Hahn said, without giving details.
He suggested the influx could get worse. “There are 20 million refugees waiting at the doorstep of Europe,” he said. “Ten to 12 million in Syria, 5 million Palestinians, 2 million Ukrainians, and about 1 million in southern Caucasia.”
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.