A Hungarian court on Thursday sentenced four human traffickers to 25 years in prison each for their roles in the 2015 case in which 71 migrants suffocated to death in the back of a refrigerated truck found on a highway in Austria.
The principal defendant, an Afghan man, and three Bulgarian accomplices, were found guilty in the southern city of Kecskemet of being part of a criminal organisation and committing multiple crimes, including human smuggling and murder.
Ten other defendants, mostly Bulgarians, were given prison terms ranging between three and 12 years. Three of the men convicted are fugitives.
Fifty-nine men, eight women and four children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of a refrigerated truck with Hungarian number plates. The truck was found abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near Parndorf, Austria, near the Hungarian border, on August 27, 2015.
The migrants had boarded that truck near the village of Morahalom, at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, before heading toward Austria. According to prosecutors, who had requested life sentences for the four main defendants, the 71 victims “suffocated in horrendous conditions three hours after the departure,” while still in Hungary.
Prosecutor Gabor Schmidt said he would appeal the sentences, saying they are too lenient.
“The only sentence capable of achieving the aims of the penalty for these defendants is the sentence of life in prison,” Schmidt said after the court session, referring to the main defendants.
D. Mihaly Irinkov, defence lawyer for one of the main defendants who drove a vehicle escorting the truck carrying the migrants, said he would ask for acquittal in the murder conviction and for a shorter sentence regarding the other counts.
Some 400,000 migrants and refugees passed through Hungary in 2015 on their way to Germany and other destinations in western Europe. The migrant flow was diverted and slowed by razor-wire fences that Hungary built on its southern borders late that year by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. Orban, who was re-elected to his third consecutive term in April, had based his campaign on his fierce anti-migrant policies.
Orban has welcomed the election of the new, populist government in Italy, which has also pledged to oppose migration and has talked about expelling tens of thousands of migrants from the country.
For his part, Pope Francis called Thursday for a multinational response to illegal migration because the problem often “exceeds the capacities and resources” of individual countries.
Francis’ message didn’t refer to the France-Italy dispute, but he echoed Italy’s long-standing complaint that it has largely been left alone to cope with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have landed on its Mediterranean shores in recent years.