A Kecskemét court on Thursday sentenced four smugglers involved in the deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated in a refrigerated lorry which passed through Hungary and was discovered in Austria in 2015 to 25 years’ imprisonment.
Police found the bodies in the Hungarian registered lorry abandoned on a motorway near the Austrian village of Parndorf just across the border, in 2015.
The primary defendant, an Afghan citizen, and three other Bulgarian defendants on trial in the city of Kecskemet were sentenced to 25 years each without the possibility of parole for people smuggling, murder and complicity to murder. The primary defendant was fined of 94 million forints (EUR 291,000) in legal fees. Prosecutors sought real life sentences.
The ruling is open to appeal. After serving his sentence, the primary defendant must leave Hungary permanently, while the others will be banned from entering the country for 10 years. Ten other defendants, mostly Bulgarians, were handed jail terms of between three and 12 years.
According to the indictment, the defendants locked up 71 people in the lorry, which could not be opened from the inside, in the early hours of August 26, 2015. The people inside the lorry suffered from crowdedness, a lack of air, rising temperature inside the vehicle and dehydration. They banged on the wall of the driver’s cabin, but, under instruction from the other defendants, he drove on. The investigation established that all the people in the vehicle died before it crossed the Hungary-Austria border shortly after 9am. The drivers then fled and left the vehicle behind.
The victims were of Afghan, Syrian, and Iraqi origin.
The court noted earlier that 1,200 people were transported illegally to western Europe between February 2015 and August of the same year on 31 occasions in sealed and crowded lorry compartments.
All defendants have appealed against the sentences.