Eleven men go on trial over the horrific deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria

Eleven men go on trial on Wednesday over the horrific deaths of 71 migrants found in an abandoned truck in Austria nearly two years ago, in one of the most disturbing cases marking Europe's migration crisis.

Eleven men go on trial over the horrific deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria
This photo from a Burgenland police press conference in September 2015 shows the pictures of suspected human traffickers arrested over the death of 71 refugees. Photo: AFP

The gruesome discovery of 59 men, eight women and four children crammed inside a poultry refrigerator lorry near the Hungarian border in August 2015 sparked widespread revulsion, and it highlighted the plight of refugees at the hands of merciless smugglers.

It also prompted countries along the now-shut western Balkan migrant route to open their borders to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty, mainly in the Middle East.

The trial is being held in the Hungarian town of Kecskemet because authorities determined that the migrants' deaths had occurred in Hungary.

READ ALSO: Austria's migrant crisis – a year that changed the country

The defendants — 10 Bulgarians, one Afghan and one Lebanese national — are accused of human trafficking and torture.

Four have also been charged with “homicide with particularly cruelty” and face life imprisonment.

They include a 30-year-old Afghan identified as Samsoor L., thought to be the ringleader, and 26-year-old Bulgarian “death truck” driver Ivajlo S.

All have been in custody for nearly two years bar one suspect who remains at large and will be tried in absentia.

The court is expected to issue its verdicts by the end of the year.

Prosecutors claim that the men belonged to a ring that smuggled more than 1,200 people into western Europe at the height of the continent's migration crisis.

The group operated between February and August 2015, and brought migrants to Germany or Austria on a daily basis from June that year.

According to prosecutors, refugees were “often carried in closed, dark and airless vans unsuitable for passenger transport, in crowded, inhuman, excruciating conditions”.

In the case of the 71 asylum seekers, investigators found they had “suffocated in horrendous conditions” shortly after being picked up near the Serbian-Hungarian border.

'Screaming the whole time'

Some 59,000 pages of evidence have been gathered detailing the horror find on the side of the A4 motorway in Burgenland state on August 27th 2015.

An Austrian police patrol had spotted the deserted truck and noticed liquid dripping from the vehicle — decomposing body fluids, as it would later emerge.

Inside, officers discovered a sea of tangled limbs squashed into a 14-square-metre (150-square-feet) cargo container.

Among the corpses was a baby girl, not even a year old.

Investigations showed that the victims — all from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — had been dead for two days.

The extent of their ordeal was revealed in recently released transcripts of intercepted mobile phone conversations between the smugglers.

“They are screaming the whole time, you can't imagine what's happening here,” the driver is quoted as saying in the transcripts obtained by German media.

The suspected Afghan boss orders him to ignore the suffocating people and keep on driving: “If they die… drop them off in a forest in Germany.”

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Hungarian police had intercepted the chats as part of an ongoing probe into the smuggling ring and failed to act.

But Hungarian officials said the conversations had not been listened to in real time but were recorded for later translation.

“If the Hungarian authorities had had a chance to stop this horrible tragedy, they would have done so,” Hungarian prosecutor Gabor Schmidt told the SZ.

Of the 71 victims, all except one have been identified. Most were repatriated to their home countries, while a dozen have been buried at a Muslim cemetery in Vienna.

A day after the death truck discovery, Samsoor L. and his gang had loaded another 67 migrants into a refrigerator lorry and again driven to Austria.

“This time the migrants could kick the door of the load area open, thus no one had died,” according to prosecutors.

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Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

The Austrian Royal Family will be the next to get The Crown treatment by Netflix, with a new series The Empress planned to be broadcast in spring next year. 

Empress Sissi
A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

Netflix’s The Empress will chart the life of the Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, commonly known as Sissi. She was the Empress of Austria for the latter half of the 19th century after marrying Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary as a teenager.

Starring German actress Devrim Lingnau in the main role, the six-part series will delve into the royal’s dramatic life, covering events such as her life at court, the tragic murder-suicide of her son and his young mistress, ending with Sissi’s assassination in 1898, when she was stabbed through the heart with a stiletto blade by an Italian anarchist.

Princess Sissi
A portrait of Empress Sissi By Emil Rabending – Scanned by User:Csanády, Photo: Public Domain

‘World famous’ trendsetter who washed hair in eggs and brandy

Princess Sissi was world famous in her lifetime as a fashion icon and trendsetter. Tall (172cm), but with a tiny waist measuring between 40cm and 50cm, she was famous for her physique and long hair, which reached to the floor.

Styling her mane took up to three hours every day, and her hairstyles were copied across Europe. One every three weeks she would wash her hair with raw eggs and brandy, a procedure which took an entire day.  

Raw meat juice anyone?

Sissi constantly starved herself with a diet of raw meat juices, eggs, oranges and raw milk. It’s reported she travelled with her own cow to ensure a regular supply of raw milk. In addition she wore tight corsets which shrank her waist even further.

Sissi adopted the practice of “tight lacing”, importing corsets from Paris such as those worn by French courtesans. Lacing could take up to an hour every morning. The Prince of Hesse is said to have described her as “almost inhumanly slender”.

Actor Romy Schneider is also famous for playing Empress Sissi in a previous adaptation (Photo by AFP)

Corset allowed her to survive longer after being stabbed through the heart, doctors believed

After Sissi was stabbed through the heart with a stiletto blade by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, she was able to stand again and walk some distance before fainting and dying later in her hotel.

Doctors theorised that her practice of reducing her waist in size to 19.5 ins (50cm) could have stopped her immediately bleeding to death, even though her rib, lungs and heart had all been pierced by the weapon. 

A portrait of Princess Sissi is displayed in the audience room of the Imperial apartments of the Royal Palace on December 3, 2012 at the Correr museum in Venice. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP)

Gym bunny

As well as barely eating, Sissi had a long daily workout regime. She started the day with 20 pull ups on a specially designed home gym.

She then completed a self-devised workout using dumbbells and rings incorporating circus skills, before spending the day energetically hiking, fencing and riding. 

Raw veal face masks and goats’ milk baths

Sissi’s beauty routine rivalled Gywneth Paltrow’s for weirdness. She regularly wore a face mask lined with raw veal and crushed strawberries, bathed in goat’s milk and drank five salted egg whites a day to reduce bloating. 

Sissi often refused to be drawn or photographed once in her 30s

Nonetheless, fearing she was ageing, once she reached 32, Empress Sissi began to refuse to sit for portraits and photographs in an effort to retain her youthful image. This is believed to have only enhanced her mystique. 

These Chinese brides and grooms even hired a  Empress Sissi look-a-like after getting married at King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle.  (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP)

She wasn’t a fan of court life and loved Hungary

Empress Sissi did not particularly like court life in Austria and often escaped to nearby Hungary, where she could live a more relaxed life away from her difficult relationship with her mother-in-law, Princess Sophie of Bavaria.

She married her older sister’s suitor

Princess Sissi was not actually intended to marry Emperor Franz Joseph, who had been promised to her older sister. However, once he met Sissi, he decided to ditch the older sister for the younger one. 

Her son died in a murder-suicide pact, setting in train events which led to the start of the First World War

Princess Sissi is said to have never recovered from the death of her only son, Rudolf in a murder-suicide pact with his 17-year-old mistress Mary Vetsera in a hunting lodge in Mayerling in 1889. 

Ruldolf’s death changed the succession of the Habsburg monarchy, meaning the crown passed to Franz Joseph’s brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, and his eldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The change of succession endangered relations with Hungary and indirectly set in motion the Archduke’s assassination. This event led to the First World War and the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.