Fifty Dead Migrants Found in Truck Highlight Europe’s Refugee Problem

Austrian truckA truck filled with the bodies of several dead migrants is a glaring reminder of Europe’s refugee crisis. Austrian authorities discovered the truck parked on the side of a freeway connecting Vienna and Budapest, Hungary. Authorities had initially reported 20 bodies, but the finally tally could be as high as 50. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner condemned the actions of human traffickers.

“This tragedy affects us all deeply,” Mikl-Leitner said. “Human traffickers are criminals. Anyone still thinking that they’re kind helpers cannot be helped.”

Europe is currently facing a humanitarian crisis as it is being flooded by migrants from Africa and the Middle East fleeing conflict or seeking better economic opportunities. The BBC reported a record number of 107,500 migrants crossed the European Union’s borders last month. The German interior minister predicted his country would receive 800,000 asylum applications this year. Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, a spokesman for the Austrian interior ministry, said his country gets 2,000 asylum applications per week.

The migrant crisis is causing political tensions between wealthier European Union countries and Balkan countries who are on the frontlines of the migration problem.

“They’re facing huge challenges and as they are future members of the European Union it is our duty to help them with these challenges,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The dead migrants in the truck were trying to enter Europe through a route that takes them through Turkey and across the Balkan mountains. However, most migrants try to enter Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea and illegally landing in countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece. The migrants often set off from Libya, which is at the tip of north Africa and close to Europe. Libya is currently fighting a civil war, after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and the chaotic environment allows criminal smuggling gangs to flourish.

These sea journeys are often conducted in rickety boats and can be fatal. According to Migrant deaths are reportedly set to outpace last year’s numbers. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 2,373 migrants had died trying to reach Europe this year. Last year’s figure was 3,281.

“Last year, from late August through the end of December, over 1,200 migrants died at sea,” said an IOM news release. “IOM is concerned that as summer turns to autumn and then winter, additional deaths at sea could well surpass 2,000 through the final third of this year.”

However, Barry Malone, Al Jazeera online editor, said the crisis is being incorrectly labelled as a migrant problem, when it’s really a refugee problem.

“According to the UN, the overwhelming majority of these people are escaping war. The largest group are fleeing Syria, a country in which an estimated 220,000 to more than 300,000 people have been killed during its appalling and escalating war,” Malone said. “Many others come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia – all places from which people are commonly given asylum.”

Malone said labeling people migrants makes it easier to dismiss their problems.

“For reasons of accuracy, the director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, has decided that we will no longer use the word migrant in this context. We will instead, where appropriate, say refugee,” Malone said. “Migrant is a word that strips suffering people of voice. Substituting refugee for it is – in the smallest way – an attempt to give some back.”

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