— The Austrian police, struggling to stanch an influx of migrants, began spot checks of vehicles crossing from Hungary
overnight, finding 200 migrants stashed in various ways and arresting five people suspected of being smugglers, the authorities said on Monday.
Traffic backed up on the Hungarian side of the border after the introduction of the traffic controls, but the Austrian authorities argued that they had no choice but to carry out the measures after the deaths of 71 migrants, including three children and a baby girl, whose decomposing bodies were found in a truck on a highway southeast of Vienna on Thursday.
While thousands have drowned at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe
, the mass deaths on the road shocked the Continent and reverberated around the world.
“We want to save lives and fight the criminal smugglers,” said Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austria’s interior minister. Asked how long the controls would be in place, she said the time period was “unlimited.”
The disaster in Austria
highlighted Europe’s muddled response to a mass migration not seen since the end of World War II. Most of the new arrivals are from war-torn parts of the Middle East, crossing from Turkey to Greece
and Serbia before entering Hungary and then heading to Europe’s wealthier northern countries.
, Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, denied that special trains had been organized to ferry asylum seekers to Germany from Budapest
, writing in a post on Twitter that “whoever arrives in Hungary must register and apply for asylum there.”
Last Tuesday, Germany’s office for migration and refugees issued new guidelines for handling asylum applications from Syrians, stating that officials would “effectively no longer enforce” the Dublin Regulation, which establishes the criteria for such cases. Consequently, those fleeing Syria
now have a strong chance of remaining in Germany, regardless of how they reached the country.
The change comes as German officials scramble to expand the infrastructure to speed up the handling of asylum applications, amid criticism they had ignored warnings and failed to prepare for the humanitarian crisis.
The “truck of shame,” as the vehicle that was abandoned in Austria was labeled in a headline in the French daily Libération, was first spotted on the Hungarian side of the border around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Austrian officials said at a news conference on Monday, when they released new details about the case.
A Hungarian truck driver told the police that he saw someone near the truck about half an hour later, said Konrad Kogler, director of public safety and security at the Austrian Interior Ministry. The vehicle was parked on the side of a highway linking Vienna to Budapest
, Mr. Kogler said.
That was not unusual in the area, where 3,000 trucks a day cross from Hungary into Austria
and head west, he said. “Now, of course, we see it with different eyes,” he added.
A Hungarian website reported on Sunday that it had heard from a truck driver, whom it did not identify, who was driving back to Hungary from Germany
on Wednesday morning and who reported briefly seeing someone near the truck.
The website, index.hu, quoted the driver as saying that he had recognized the person as one of the four who appeared before a Hungarian court on Saturday and who were ordered held until Sept. 29 on suspicion of involvement in the tragedy. A fifth person, one of four Bulgarian citizens held, was arrested late Saturday.
Autopsies being carried out in Vienna on the 71 bodies have yielded no identifications so far, Mr. Kogler said. He declined to speculate about other details, such as the time and cause of death, until the doctors had finished their examinations.
The Austrian police, who have sent reinforcements to Nickelsdorf, near the border with Hungary
, detained five people suspected of being smugglers and discovered about 200 migrants, including 10 who were hidden in a truck with French license plates, Mr. Kogler said.
By Monday morning, traffic across the border, which is normally open under the European Union arrangements allowing passport-free travel, was backed up about 12 miles into Hungary, the traffic authorities said.
To reinforce the point about the need for such measures to save lives, the Austrian authorities emphasized at least two more cases this month in which disaster had been narrowly avoided.
One episode, which became public over the weekend, involved a truck with 26 migrants, including three badly dehydrated children, who were found after the police chased a suspicious truck in northern Austria. The children were treated at a hospital and then fled again with their parents, officials said.
Mr. Kogler also cited a case of 86 people found in a truck west of Vienna in early August. They included 16 children and one pregnant woman, he said, and had been crammed into a truck for 12 hours. “It was only luck that none of these people died,” he said.
He also cited estimates that more than 34,000 people had been smuggled into Austria so far this year, compared with an estimated 9,800 in all of 2014.
The Austrian police have apprehended 628 people suspected of being smugglers this year, compared with 277 in all of last year, he said.
Acknowledging that the new controls would clog movement along a busy artery for European traffic, Mr. Kogler invited reporters to weigh the cost of human lives against “a few extra minutes in traffic.”
“It is clear where the priority lies,” he said.