A 19-year-old people smuggler has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the deaths of two Syrian illegal immigrants who suffocated in the back of a van he was driving across the border to Austria.
The Eisenstadt court found the 19-year-old people smuggler, a Latvian national, guilty on Monday of people smuggling and actions that led to death and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was not found guilty of the murder charge the prosecutor had demanded, however.
The Latvian pled guilty to the charge of smuggling but not guilty to the charge of murder, and admitted he knew the 30 asylum seekers in the back of his vehicle had been in distress after being locked in the cargo area of a van for eight hours without a break, Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung reports.
The deaths of the two Syrian nationals took place on October 19th of last year after the Latvian picked up the group of migrants in a forest along the border with Serbia and Hungary and drove them to Austria.
Around two hours into the trip the oxygen in the cargo area of the van had run out and the desperate asylum seekers tore our piece of the van and banged on the walls in an attempt to make the driver stop.
Trafficker Linked to 15 Dead Migrants in Back of Lorry Jailed https://t.co/hd2vyU9Szl
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The driver eventually did stop after being forced to a checkpoint by Austrian soldiers at Siegendorf, near the border of Hungary, where the migrants were found by authorities, two of them dead. The Latvian managed to flee the scene but was arrested in his home country two months later.
The Latvian is said to have been part of a larger smuggling network, with 19 members of the network already having been convicted of crimes in April.
The case echoes another incident in which migrants died in a van along the border of Austria and Hungary in 2015 that saw 71 people die, including a baby and was one of the first major events of the 2015 migrant crisis.
Eight men, one Afghan and seven Bulgarians, were later put on trial over the deaths of the migrants who had been abandoned by the side of a motorway and left to die. In 2018, the Afghan, said to have been the leader of the smuggling gang, received a 25-year sentence from a Hungarian court, along with three other accomplices, while others received lesser sentences.