Remember 71 bodies found in a truck before demonizing migrants

Thomson Reuters
Migrants and refugees wait to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border in Sentilj onto Spielfeld, Oct. 18, 2015.  
Jure Makovec

EISENSTADT, Austria (Reuters) - An Austrian investigator on Thursday urged politicians and others who dismiss refugees as criminals or economic migrants to remember the 71 dead people abandoned in a meat truck on an Austrian motorway.

The discovery of the decomposing bodies in an airtight truck on Aug. 27 shocked the world at a time when the biggest migrant wave since World War II was moving through Europe.

The migrant crisis has given a boost to anti-immigrant parties across the continent.

Speaking on Thursday of the symbolic power of the case, Hans Peter Doskozil took aim at those seeking to demonize migrants who risk their lives to flee war and destruction.

"One must always keep in mind how these people feel and what pressure they are exposed to when one casually suspects them of criminality or says they are only economic migrants," Doskozil told a news conference.

"I hope and I wish that this incident will stay in the minds of people and decision makers."

Austria's far-right and Islam-critical Freedom Party has seen its popularity soar since the summer, regularly scoring more than 30 percent in opinion polls despite xenophobic gaffes by its representatives.

Investigators in the eastern city of Eisenstadt are turning the case over to Hungary, from where the truck entered Austria and which has arrested five men in a probe into trafficking.

Prosecutor Johann Fuchs described how the Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians and Iranians died.

"The people just sank down, dying. We could see no traces of a fight or of panic," Fuchs said.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)