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Tragic Stories Throw A Harsh Light On Europe's Migration Crisis


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The discovery of a truck filled with the bodies of 71 men, women and children has thrown a grizzly light on the European migration crisis. Austrian authorities found the truck Thursday abandoned on a highway east of Vienna. Yesterday, police in neighboring Hungary arrested several suspected human traffickers believed to be connected with the truck. Some of the victims inside had fled the civil war in Syria hoping to make new lives in Germany and other nations in Northern Europe.

Istvan Szekeres is an Hungarian journalist who's been following refugees as they make their way from Turkey to Greece and northward toward Germany. He joins us from Budapest. Thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: Obviously the answer to this might not be known for some time if ever, but I'm trying to understand how all of these different ways of trying to get through Hungary and moving from a place like Syria into Northern Europe, how 70 people wind up in the back of an unventilated truck.

SZEKERES: That is a very good question. A couple of months ago, this was normal. These people were smuggled across the borders in various ways, including in trucks. Human traffickers were needed because there were illegal border crossings along the route, but this has changed significantly.

Right now the situation is that Macedonian authorities are not trying to block these people to enter the country. Actually what they are doing is to get them in from Greece and trying to push them out to Serbia. And Serbia is the same - Serbian authorities receive these people, and they try to push them through to Hungary. And in way, it's also true for Hungary - that Hungary is trying to get rid of these people. It means, right now, there is not a big need for human trafficking. How these 70 people into this truck and for what purpose, it leaves me perplexed.

SIMON: Hungry has put up a fence to keep migrants out. What effect does that have? Is that - might be why people resorted to being packed inside a truck?

SZEKERES: I think to understand the situation from a Hungarian point of view, you have to understand that much of this course about immigrants and refugees and refugee seekers in Hungary is centered around internal political issues. There is a very heavy government campaign that tries to show these refugee seekers as kind of a threat to security for ordinary Hungarians.

They don't really have much contact with ordinary Hungarian people. For example, when these people enter Hungary, they are trespassing the fruit gardens of farmers in the region. And they are picking plums and apples and all the fruit that they can find. Apart from that, you cannot talk about crime rate or anything like that because it seems to - doesn't exist.

SIMON: There have been reports in the United States, Mr. Szekeres, that some of the refugees aren't in fact relying on smugglers at all - they have smartphone apps that help them navigate the landscape. I wonder if you've seen this.

SZEKERES: In February and June, the situation was really, as you say - that people used mobile phones, smartphones to navigate their way. They have an operation center somewhere - it could be in Syria or their home country - and they keep contact with a certain person. And that certain person is kind of guiding them through the whole way. Right now, people still have mobile phones, but my feeling was that they don't rely on traffickers anymore. Also, I have a contact who runs a little motel. He says that there is a big change in the social status of the refugee seekers. Earlier this year, their profession was intellectual. There were several doctors or teachers or dentists or even engineers, and right now it's different. The people who are coming now are less educated. Probably, they have less money to spend on this journey.

SIMON: Istvan Szekeres is Balkans editor for the Hungarian news weekly The Observer, speaking from Budapest. Thanks so much for being with us.

SZEKERES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.