Migrant death truck ‘mastermind’ tight-lipped at trial

The alleged kingpin of a human trafficking gang accused of killing 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria refused to testify on the second day of his trial on Thursday.

Migrant death truck 'mastermind' tight-lipped at trial
The defendants accused of human trafficking and torture wearing headphones to listen to the translation of their trial. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP
“I will only speak once I've heard what my associates have had to say,” 30-year-old Afghan Samsoor L. told the court in the Hungarian town of Kecskemet.
He added however: “I know what is true (in the charge sheet) and what is false. Some parts are correct, others are false.”
The discovery on a baking-hot day in August 2015 of the decomposing bodies — giving off a noxious stench — in the back of a refrigerated poultry lorry sparked international revulsion.
The trial is being held in Hungary because 59 men, eight women and four children including a baby girl suffocated in Hungary soon after being picked up near the Serbian border.
Samsoor L. and three suspected accomplices have been charged with murder “with particular cruelty”, while another seven suspects are accused of human trafficking and torture.
The group is believed to have transported more than 1,100 people to Austria and Germany at the height of Europe's migrant crisis two years ago, netting at least 300,000 euros ($335,000).
Samsoor L. has rejected the charges against him, telling police after his arrest that he was a simple car salesman.
On the opening day of the trial, flashing a smile, he held up a sign in Pashto language reading: “I am neither a killer, nor an oppressor”.
The Afghan's alleged right-hand man, a 31-year-old Bulgarian named as Metodi G., also refused to respond to the charges on Thursday.
But a statement he gave at the time of his arrest was read out in court in which he admitted acquiring vehicles and drivers on Samsoor L.'s orders, making clear that he was running the show.
“Samsoor was the boss of the whole operation. At first everything went well but he got more and more greedy and wanted to transport more and more people,” the statement quoted him as saying.
However he insisted the migrants' deaths had been an accident and said that at one point the truck had pulled over into a rest area in order to open the doors and give the migrants some fresh air.
“But a police car came and the driver panicked and took off without opening the lorry,” the Bulgarian told police.
“Nobody wanted that these migrants die… If I thought I was responsible I'd kill myself.”
Almost 60,000 pages of evidence detail how the 71 migrants — all from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — were allegedly locked inside the airtight poultry truck at the Serbian-Hungarian border.
Half an hour after the departure, they started to bang and shout that they were running out of air but Samsoor L. ordered the driver to ignore their screams, transcripts of intercepted mobile phone conversations suggest.
“If they die… drop them off in a forest in Germany,” he was quoted as saying in the conversations recorded by Hungarian police but only listened to later.
The trial is expected to continue for several months, with a verdict expected at the end of the year at the earliest.
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What is Vienna’s MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The city of Vienna now has several new appointment slots for a 'first information meeting' for those wanting to apply for Austrian citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

What is Vienna's MA 35 doing to offer better service for immigrants in Austria?

The office for immigration and citizenship in Vienna, MA 35, is known for long waiting periods, delays and even mistakes being made in applications. It has recently received renewed criticisms as new appointments for Austrian citizenship were not open until mid-2023.

Things got even worse, and applicants now have to wait until October 2023 to get the first appointment. Only after this meeting will they receive another date (sometimes also a year later) to submit the documents asked. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

Green politician Aygül Berivan Aslan said the reform of MA 35 had “failed”. She said she welcomed the SPÖ’s push towards simplifying access to citizenship but felt that “theory and practice do not match”. Speaking in the Viennese parliament, she introduced a motion for a six-month evaluation of the office.

Aslan also proposed that in the case of delays of more than six months, citizenship costs should be waived for applicants. 

Stadt Wien service screenshot

How bad is the situation?

Not only do people have to wait months for a first talk and then months to submit documents, but once their part is done, the wait is not over. There are currently 3,800 procedures pending for more than half a year in the MA 35, Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Integration Christoph Wiederkehr (NEOS) said.

He justified delays saying that the number of applications had risen by around 30 percent his year in Vienna – only last month, there were 600 appointments booked. 

“The sharp increase can be explained by the eligibility of refugees from 2015 to apply for citizenship as well as by uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine”, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Bring everything you have’: Key tips for dealing with Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

He added that the goal would need to be “simplifying the procedures nationwide”. However, Wiederkehr also said there were reforms still being implemented in the MA 35.

Wiederkehr said: “On the part of the city, there are ongoing staff increases at MA 35. The training of the employees is so complex that it takes about a year.” 

“In addition to the increase in staff, there was an analysis to optimise some work processes, as well as intensive training. Digitalisation is also being accelerated”, he added.