Hungary asked to take over truck deaths probe

Austrian authorities have asked Hungary to take over the probe into the deaths of 71 refugees found in a truck on an Austrian motorway in August and thought to have suffocated shortly after leaving Budapest.

Hungary asked to take over truck deaths probe
The abandoned truck. Photo: Screen shot from video by Andi Schiel

Prosecutors in the eastern Burgenland state, where the gruesome cargo was discovered, were seeking a “centralised investigation of the entire criminal procedure through the Hungarian justice system”, spokesman Roland Koch told AFP.

The badly decomposing bodies of the 59 men, eight women and four children were found on August 27 inside an abandoned refrigerator truck on the A4 motorway, close to the Hungarian border.

Investigations revealed that the refugees – mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan –  had been picked up at Hungary's border with Serbia and transported to Austria.

An autopsy showed they had most likely suffocated while still in Hungary.

The government there has taken a controversially hard-line stance against migration amid Europe's worst such crisis since World War II.

So far, six people have been detained in connection with the case, which sparked international revulsion and highlighted the plight of migrants and refugees putting their lives in the hands of human traffickers to reach Europe.

But Koch said Austrian police would drop an arrest warrant against one of the suspects, a 32-year-old detained in Bulgaria who was due to be extradited to Austria.

The man was no longer a suspect in the case, Koch confirmed.

Another five men, four Bulgarians and an Afghan, are under arrest in Hungary over the tragedy.

More than half of the refugees have now been identified, an official source said. Four of the victims were buried in a cemetery in Vienna on Wednesday.


‘Discrimination’: Austria’s benefit cuts for immigrants ‘go against free movement’

Benefit cuts imposed by Austria on immigrants whose children live in their country of origin contradict EU law becasue they constitute "discrimination on the ground of nationality", a legal adviser at the bloc's top court said on Thursday.

A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The opinion is the latest legal hitch to befall a series of measures — imposed by a previous government that included the far-right — which sought to restrict benefit payments to foreigners.

Richard de la Tour, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said the cuts to child benefits constituted “an infringement of the right of free movement conferred on EU citizens”.

The specific case relates to reforms that came into effect in 2019 which indexed child benefits according to where the recipient’s children live.

This meant reduced payments for tens of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in Austria — notably in the care sector — but whose children remain in their countries of origin.

The advocate general’s advice is not binding on the court but it is seen as influential.

De la Tour found that the cuts were “indirect discrimination on the ground of nationality which is permissible only if it is objectively justified”, and that Austria had failed to do so.

They contravened the principle that “if a migrant worker pays social contributions and taxes in a member state, he or she must be able to benefit from the same allowances as nationals of that state”, he added.

In 2020 the European Commission, supported by six eastern member states, brought an action before the CJEU claiming Austria was “failing to fulfil its obligations”.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had said he hoped the cuts would save 114 million euros ($130 million) a year but in 2019 they recouped 62 million euros.

The former coalition also introduced benefit cuts for immigrants who failed to reach a certain level of German, but those measures were subsequently overturned by the Austrian courts.

The government that introduced in the cuts was brought down in a corruption scandal in May 2019.

It included the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), which is still the senior partner in the current government.

However their current coalition partners, the Greens, opposed the benefit cuts at the time.