Austrian police pin hopes of identifying dead refugees on cellphones

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 29, 2015 11:38 AM

By Karin Strohecker

NICKELSDORF, Austria (Reuters) - Austrian police said on Saturday they are hoping to help identify 71 refugees found dead in an abandoned truckon an Austrian highway by examining mobile phones found on some of the bodies.

Four children, including a baby girl, were among the dead, presumed to be from Syria and possibly Afghanistan, who were found on Thursday. Fluids from the decomposing bodies were seeping from the door of the truck, left on a highway leading from Hungary to Vienna.

Searches of backpacks, luggage and clothing had provided few clues apart from one Syrian travel document, said Helmut Marban, police spokesman in the province of Burgenland, adding that numbers and data from the phones should provide vital leads.

"We will examine the phones and this will maybe lead us to the identity of the people," said Marban.

"We hope we will soon get results," he added, speaking in front of a former customs hall where the truck was standing on tarpaulin to gather fluids, with investigators clad in protective suits gathering forensic evidence.

Police estimated the refugees could have been dead for up to two days and the truck might have been standing on the hard shoulder of the highway for as long as 24 hours.

"It seems unbelievable," said Marban, asked about how 71 people could have fitted into the medium-sized refrigeration truck.

"At first when they got in they were of course standing, but when we had to bring them out they were (entangled) altogether."

In nearby camps, refugees said the news had left them stunned, but they had seen little choice but to flee to Europe.

"We had to walk so much, it was so dangerous, in the forest and in the water," said 21-year-old Qariburahman, who had been on the road for a month before Austrian police picked him up and brought him to the Nickelsdorf refugee reception center.

"When I came from Afghanistan, about three people died on the way, the way is very dangerous," he said, adding his journey had cost him $5,000.

A Syrian refugee in the camp of Traiskirchen south of Vienna said people had no choice but go along with traffickers.

"We didn't know what the car was, maybe it's a truck, maybe it's a van. And we had to follow (the trafficker) because in his area, he is the boss," he said, his pregnant wife and baby son close by.

"My wife, she told me, 'Oh maybe we were supposed to be one of them'... Maybe it is one of my friends, maybe it is one of my brothers on that truck.'"

Three Bulgarians and an Afghan arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths made their first appearance in court on Saturday. The judge ordered them to be detained for one month for questioning.

(Additional reporting by Anna McIntosh in Traiskirchen and Shadia Nasrallah in Vienna; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)