Hungary migrant truck deaths: Four jailed for life

Szeged, Hungary: An appeals court in the Hungarian town of Szeged on Thursday handed life sentences to four smugglers responsible for the deaths of 71 migrants in a refrigerated lorry nearly four years ago.
Three of the defendants — the Bulgarian driver and the Afghan and Bulgarian organisers of the transport — were convicted without the possibility of parole. The fourth, a Bulgarian who drove the car following the lorry, may walk out after at least 30 years. The verdict is final and cannot be appealed.
In the lower instance, they got 25 years without the possibility of parole. The judge presiding over the appeal, Erik Mezolaki, said the harsher judgement reflected the weight of the crime.
“Seventy-one people died a terrible, torturous death. The defendants may not have wanted it, but they allowed it to happen,” Mezolakisaid.
The 71 victims paid the smugglers to transport them through Hungary in August of 2015, when the migration wave on the so-called Balkan route was approaching its peak.
They were crammed into an airtight cargo bay of a lorry normally used for the transport of refrigerated goods near Hungary’s border with Serbia.
Forensic investigators determined that the people inside began suffering due to the heat and shortage of air quickly.
The people inside tried to draw attention by beating on the walls and probably screaming, but though the driver stopped several times, the smugglers prohibited him from opening the door to ventilate the lorry, out of fear that they would be caught or that the people inside may flee.
“That was more important for the smugglers than lives of 71 people. They are equally guilty for the death of the victims,” the judge said.
By the time they finally did stop hours later on the shoulder of the highway at Parndorf, beyond the Austrian border, the people inside had died due to suffocation.
The smugglers left the lorry and fled. Though the bodies were found in Austria, the trial was held in Hungary because forensic experts determined that the victims had already died in Hungary.
The four were tried as a group conspiring to commit a crime. Seven other Bulgarians, a Lebanese and an Afghan who lived in Serbia at the time were sentenced in the first instance to long prison sentences for their role in the fatal transport. The sentences of that group, two of them handed in absentia, were not significantly changed in the appeal.
The entire group had organised at least 25 transports of migrants to Austria and Germany.
The victims were part of a migration wave which brought more than 1 million people from Asia and Africa through the Balkan countries in just 10 months of 2015 and 2016.
— dpa