Migrants killed as people-smugglers' van crashes in Austria

Investigators say some of the people being trafficked are of Syrian origin

'The tragic deaths of three people show the brutality and unscrupulousness of the smuggling mafia,' Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said. AFP
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Three people died after a van packed with people being smuggled into Austria from Slovakia overturned as its driver tried to escape a police check, officials said.

The driver overturned the vehicle as he tried to speed away from police at a border crossing, said Helmut Marban, police spokesman of Burgenland state.

Two men and a woman were killed in the crash, he said. Seven people were seriously injured, and others suffered lighter injuries.

There were 20 people in the van, including four children, the officer said.

The driver, thought to be of Russian origin, has been arrested, Mr Marban said. Investigators have established some of the people being smuggled in the van were of Syrian origin.

“The tragic deaths of three people show once again the brutality and unscrupulousness of the smuggling mafia,” Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said.

His ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of people, mostly Syrians, from neighbouring Hungary to Austria.

The gang was said to have received nearly $160 million for their illegal services, making it one of the biggest operations uncovered in Austria.

Migrants stayed in the capital, Vienna, before many were moved by other gangs to France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Officials said 92 people were arrested in Austria in the May operation, while others were held in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania. More than 80 vehicles were seized.

Investigations into the group started in early 2021.

Police said Syrians paid up to $4,700 to be taken from Hungary to Austria, two members of the EU.

In 2015, 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an airtight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.

The bodies, including three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border with Hungary.

Updated: August 14, 2022, 5:00 AM
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