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.


MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.