'More than 70' bodies in Austria truck tragedy
4 children, 8 women among refugees found dead in container truck on Austrian highway

Austrian officials confirmed Friday that a total of 71 people, including women and children, were found dead in the back of a container truck on one of the country’s eastern highways earlier this week.

"Seventy-one people died in this tragic incident," police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil said at a news conference with Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

"Among them 59 are men, eight are women and four are children, including a one or two-year-old girl, and three boys between the ages of eight and 10," he added.

The victims -- thought to be refugees -- were found Thursday in the back of a container truck left abandoned on the A4 highway in Burgerland state, close to the Hungarian border.

Doskozil said officials found a Syrian travel document in the container and assumed that at least some of the victims were refugees from that country.

It was not immediately clear what caused the death of the refugees, but Doskozil said they probably suffocated inside the container.

An autopsy on the victims will continue for a couple of days, he added.

Austrian police confirmed that three suspects were arrested in neighboring Hungary in connection with the incident.

Two of the suspects, including the driver, were Bulgarian citizens, and another suspect was Hungarian, Doskozil said.

Austrian daily Kronen Zeitung reported that a fourth suspected smuggler was arrested in Hungary later Friday.

In the U.S., the White House described the deaths as "terrible" but was quick to acknowledge the EU’s efforts in handling the influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said the entire immigration situation in Europe was "heartbreaking”.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, announced Friday in a briefing that "the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year has now exceeded 300,000, including almost 200,000 people landing in Greece and 110,000 in Italy."

She added that 2,500 migrants have died or gone missing this year so far while trying to reach Europe.

Thousands of refugees are trying to enter Austria every month, by paying smugglers and often risking their lives by travelling in cargo containers.

Many use Austria as a corridor to reach Germany, France or other Western European countries where they apply for asylum.

In the first six months of 2015, Austrian authorities arrested 20,369 people who entered the country without a valid travel document and visa.

A total of 278 suspected smugglers are currently in detention and authorities are investigating around 200 other suspects, according to the public television ORF.

A total of 28,311 people applied for asylum in Austria in the first six months of 2015, representing a 212 percent increase compared with the same period last year; 17,237 of them were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have led to a surge in number of refugees seeking to travel to Europe.

Nearly 250,000 people have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, more than in all of 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.

There are 626,000 applications for asylum across 28 EU member states, while Germany is expecting to receive 800,000 asylum applications alone by the end of the year, four times the number of last year.

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Last Modified: 2015-08-29 08:53:38
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