AUGUST 28 2015 13:13h

Police:テつ71 found dead in abandoned lorry thought to be Syrian

Dead refugees found in a truck in Austria

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Seventy-one people found dead in the back of a truck left along an Austrian highway are believed to be Syrian asylum seekers and likely suffocated, police said Friday.

Hungarian authorities detained three men in relation to Thursday's gruesome discovery: a Hungarian-Lebanese national who owned the lorry and two other men - one Bulgarian and one Hungarian - who were driving the vehicle.

The three men are thought to form "the two lowest rungs of an organized crime network" and were likely to lead to other perpetrators, said Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief of Burgenland, the state on the Hungarian border where the lorry was found.

Four other people had also been detained but were later released, he said.

Doskozil said one set of Syrian documents was found in the refrigerated lorry, leading investigators to believe that the 59 men, eight women and four children, including an infant girl, found dead inside were refugees fleeing via the Balkans from war-torn Syria.

An investigation is under way to definitively determine the cause of their deaths, identify the victims and determine who is responsible for the trafficking network behind the crime.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leiter said the incident would not lead Austrian authorities to re-evaluate the Schengen agreement, which allows people free movement within the European Union.

"We don't need border controls," she said. "What we need is to set up safe points of entry at the EU's outer borders, where we can immediately differentiate between refugees fleeing war and [those fleeing for other reasons]," she said.

The incident marks the latest in a series of migration-related tragedies this summer, including boat capsizings, as tens of thousands of people flee war, violence and poverty in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and Asia to seek a better life in Europe.

"A migration quota is needed to form the basis of any joint approach to asylum," Mikl-Leiter argued in reference to calls from European leaders to redistribute about 40,000 immigrants stranded in Italy and Greece across EU member states.

Employees of the highway operator Asfinag discovered the 7.5-ton lorry abandoned on the shoulder of the highway near Parndorf, about 50 kilometres south-east of Vienna.

The truck was taken to a veterinary institute with refrigeration facilities, and about 20 forensic experts worked through the night to remove and count the bodies.