Human traffickers involved in the death of 71 migrants in a refrigerated truck discovered in Austria in August 2015 were sentenced on Thursday by the Hungarian courts to sentences of up to 25 years in prison.
The head leader of the gang, a 31-year-old Afghan, two other Bulgarian gang members and the driver of the deadly convoy, also Bulgarian, received 25 years of imprisonment.
Ten other defendants of the 14 member gang, three of whom are on the run were sentenced to between 3 and 12 years in prison.
The victims – 59 men, eight women and four children, including a baby – from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were taken care of near the Serbian border in Hungary on 26 August 2015.
Piled in the sealed compartment of the vehicle, they had perished in less than three hours. Their conveyors had refused to stop to let them access fresh air, despite their cries of distress.
The vehicle was discovered the next day abandoned at the edge of an Austrian highway with its macabre load.
Accused of “homicides with aggravating circumstance of particular cruelty” at the trial which started in June 2017 in Kecskemét, in the south of Hungary, the accused claimed that they were unaware of the plight of the passengers and they had not intended to kill them.
But wiretaps made by the Hungarian police left no room for doubt, according to the prosecution: alerted by his men that migrants were suffocating and shouting for air, the gang leader, Samsoor Lahoo, refused to open the refrigerated compartment.
“Let them die. It’s an order,” Samsoor Lahoo told his deputy. “If they die, let them dump them into a forest in Germany,” he said. Faced with these recordings, Lahoo, who had reportedly adopted a defiant attitude during the trial, dismissed these comments as “unthinking remarks.”
But for the prosecutor Gabor Schmidt, Lahoo’s comments were indicative of the “frightening indifference and unlimited greed” that guided him.
The 71 victims were crammed into 14 square metres, with less than 30 cubic metres of air to breathe. They had died while the vehicle was still in Hungarian territory. The truck was later abandoned near the Austrian town of Parndorf, not far from the Hungarian border.
The tragedy did not stop the network from organising a new transport the next day in similar conditions, with a new tragedy only avoided because the 67 passengers managed to smash open the compartment door.