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The Brutal Tactics Of Migrant Smugglers In 'The New York Times'


Earlier this summer, 71 migrants got into the back of a meat truck in Hungary bound for Austria. Within an hour-and-a-half, investigators say they had suffocated. A new story in The New York Times looks at the lives of the people who died on that truck, many of them seeking asylum in Europe and escaping from places like Syria and Iraq. And it investigates the sometimes brutal tactics used by human smugglers in Europe's migrant crisis. David Kirkpatrick is the reporter with The New York Times who wrote this story. He joins me now. Welcome to the program.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK: It's a pleasure to be here.

CORNISH: You've actually spoken with family members of the people who died on that truck. What can you tell us about their backgrounds, who they were?

KIRKPATRICK: Well, what surprised me most is that a lot of them were affluent and well-educated at home in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, or Erbil or Sulaymaniyah in Iraq. These were not people who were telling me stories about deprivation and poverty and war. What their families all said to me is, you know, this was an educated businessman or this was a graduate student in archaeology who wanted to finish his Ph.D., not the kind of people who would've gone blindly into an airless meat truck.

CORNISH: And so they had actually spent money for what they hoped might be safer passage to Europe, right?

KIRKPATRICK: Yeah. Some of them had dug into their pockets and spent as much as $10,000 extra to travel by land and avoid the dangers of the Mediterranean passage. You know, one of them made his way from Greece all the way to Belgrade without the help of a smuggler just to avoid the dangers that came with a smuggler. And yet, somehow in the final moment they all ended up in that truck.

CORNISH: So what happened in this case that helped you understand some of the tactics that the smugglers are using?

KIRKPATRICK: Well, some of it was talking to the Austrian police who've now heard from enough migrants that they know that the smugglers have assembled a kind of machine, you know, where they bring the migrants into the woods in Hungary. They're surrounded there by the Hungarian police who've taken a very tough and aggressive approach to migrants. They're afraid. The smugglers promised them that a care ride will take them to Germany. And in fact, when they get to the designated spot, a truck pulls up instead. The migrants are not allowed to see the face of their driver so their driver can abandon his vehicle without fear of being identified.

CORNISH: You also found that the smugglers will split up families on purpose, right?

KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, that's right. The Austrian police told me that they've discovered that the smugglers will sometimes deliberately try to divide families because it makes the families lees assertive or less likely to try to break off and go it their own way. And I saw one family to whom that had actually happened where two brothers were separated when their cabs to the border inexplicably dropped one of them off alone in the woods

CORNISH: What have police and investigators learned about the world of the smugglers as it expands, right, as more people get into this business?

KIRKPATRICK: Well, what they're finding or what they say they're finding is that as the demand is booming, they're attracting regular old street criminals - you know, pickpockets or burglars - are now smugglers, are the guys getting behind the wheel of one of these trucks and plummeting towards Germany and abandoning it as soon as they get across the border into Austria to go back and grab another truck and try again.

CORNISH: Is there any recourse for the families of the victims? I mean, is there any way to recoup money from a smuggler?

KIRKPATRICK: The smugglers all promise a great deal of security. The usual arrangement is that the family will make a deposit with a local agent. The agent in Sulaymaniyah is called Jamal Guarantee (ph). That's his business name to suggest the security of his services. And Jamal is supposed to give them their money back if their relative doesn't make it to Germany. None of the families I've talked to had yet received their money back and they say that Jamal has been very scarce since the episode in the truck. So it remains to be seen whether they'll see any money back from this whole episode.

CORNISH: David Kirkpatrick - he's a reporter for The New York Times - thank you so much for speaking with us.

KIRKPATRICK: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.