Probe in deaths of 71 European migrants finds ‘ruthless’ trafficking network

BUDAPEST, Hungary,  Authorities said they have uncovered a “vast” and “ruthless” network of human trafficking that appears to be aimed at taking advantage of the ongoing European migrant crisis, and one which resulted in the deaths of 71 people in a single incident last year.

A Syrian migrant looks out the window of a commercial train heading toward Austria at the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 6, 2015. Wednesday, Hungarian officials said eight people face charges in a smuggling operation that led to the deaths of 71 people in a single incident in August 2015. File Photo by Achilleas Zavallis/UPI | License Photo

Hungary investigators have been looking into the deaths of those 71 migrants, who were found crammed in a refrigerated truck in Austria in August 2015. Officials say they were refugees — men, women and children — who fled violence in the Middle East for a better life in Europe.

The smugglers packed them in the truck and tried to move them into Budapest. However, they didn’t survive the trip. Officials said when the smugglers found the migrants had suffocated, they abandoned the truck in Austria.

An Afghan citizen and seven Bulgarians face criminal charges in the case. They have not been identified.

“The unscrupulousness and greed of the Afghan leader of this criminal gang is what led to this tragedy,” Hungarian police official Zoltan Boross said.

During the course of the investigation, authorities said Wednesday, they found a large human trafficking network.

“You see a number of multinational criminal gangs operating across Europe, making their profit regardless of the risks put to migrants’ lives,” Europol official Robert Crepinko said.

Europol estimates that smugglers generated revenues exceeding $5.5 billion last year. With money like that, experts say, it’s no wonder why human trafficking continues to be big business.

Investigators said the eight suspects in the Hungary case began buying more trucks last year when refugee migrations began to skyrocket. More than 1,100 migrants were smuggled by the group, officials said.

By Doug G. Ware