World / Europe

Hundreds die as desperate migrants head for Europe

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-08-28 19:23

Hundreds die as desperate migrants head for Europe

Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway patrol near the Hungarian border on Thursday, near Parndorf, Austria, August 28, 2015.[Photo/Agencies]

TRIPOLI/EISENSTADT, Austria - Libya on Friday recovered the bodies of 82 migrants washed ashore after their overcrowded boat sank on its way to Europe while Austria said 71 refugees including a baby girl had been found dead in the back of an abandoned freezer truck.

Hungarian police have arrested three Bulgarians and one Afghan citizen in connection with the truck deaths and Austrian police said they suspected a Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficking ring was responsible.

"In addition, police have conducted house searches ...and questioned almost 20 people as witnesses," police said in the statement.

The victims - 59 men, 8 women and four children, including a girl estimated at 1-2 years old - were probably from Syria, police said.

At least 180 were either dead or missing in the Libyan disaster. Both tragedies were a result of a renewed surge in migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty that has confronted Europe with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The UN refugee agency said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe had passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014.

More than 2,500 have died making the crossing this year, the UNHCR said, compared with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014.

A security official in the western Libyan town of Zuwara, from where the doomed migrant boat had set off, said there had been around 400 people on board. Many appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized on Thursday.

"About 100 people are still missing," said Ibrahim al-Attoushi, a Red Crescent official, and about 198 had been rescued.

The migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, the security official said.

The Italian coast guard said 1,430 people had been rescued in various operations off Libya on Thursday, and a merchant ship sent to the aid of a small boat carrying 125 people recovered two bodies.

The Libyan coast guard has limited capabilities, relying on small inflatables, tug boats and fishing vessels.

Zuwara, near the Tunisian border, is a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy.

Libya is a major transit route for migrants hoping to make it to Europe. Smuggling networks exploit the country's lawlessness and chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt while Africans arrive through Niger, Sudan and Chad.

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