By Stefan Bos
A court in the central Hungarian city of Kecskemét found four men, including an Afghan, identified as the gang leader and three Bulgarian accomplices, guilty of homicide and other charges and said they should serve 25 years in prison for their involvement in killing 71 migrants.
Some 10 others, all but one Bulgarians, were convicted on charges of smuggling and belonging to a criminal organization, and got sentences from three to 12 years.
Judge János Jádi expressed outrage that the smugglers were letting 71 men, including women and children, suffocate inside a truck on August 26, 2015.
They dumped the truck with corpses in sweltering heat at the side of an Austrian motorway leading to the capital Vienna.
Investigators later find out that those who died were 59 men, eight women and four children from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
They were herded into a refrigerated truck in southern Hungary. Smugglers had promised safe passage to Germany.
In a statement, judge Jádi said that the smugglers "knew the truck was packed, they knew that families and mothers with children were in the truck and that the people inside could die.” He added “They died in cruel circumstances, in a lot of suffering. But none of the defendants did anything.”
The tragedy unfolded while politicians in gathered in the Hofburg palace in nearby Vienna to discuss the most significant flow of refugees in Europe since World War II. Thousands had already drowned making the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean in rickety boats and rafts that year, and an untold number had died trekking across the Continent.
Days later, a visibly shaken Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would open its borders to hundreds of thousands of desperate people clamoring to get into the country — a policy decision that reverberates across Europe to this day.
Thursday's sentencing of smugglers linked to the death of migrants seemed aimed at sending a warning to criminal gangs. But the ruling is preliminary and open to appeal.