They Let 71 People Die in Stifling Truck. They Got 25 Years.

KECSKEMET, Hungary — Before Europe felt the full impact of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war as well as starvation in Africa as well as the Middle East, before anti-immigrant populists swept to power in Europe as well as America, as well as before the Brexit vote, a series of migration tragedies defined the summer of 2015.

Day after day, people died trying to reach refuge in Europe by land or sea, as well as in August came one of the most horrific cases: Police officers found the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants who had been locked in a truck as well as abandoned beside a highway in Austria. The grisly crime shocked people across the Continent as well as beyond, as well as influenced migration policy.

On Thursday, a Hungarian court convicted a group of smugglers for their roles inside trafficking as well as deaths. Four were found guilty of homicide as well as different charges, as well as were sentenced to 25 years in prison; 10 others were convicted on charges of smuggling as well as belonging to a criminal organization, as well as received sentences through three to 12 years.

“They knew the truck was packed, they knew which families as well as mothers with children were inside truck as well as which the people inside could die,” Judge Janos Jadi said. “They died in cruel circumstances, in a lot of suffering. nevertheless none of the defendants did anything.”

The tragedy unfolded as the largest flow of refugees in Europe since World War II reached crisis levels, as well as a summit meeting of the continent’s top leaders was convened inside Hofburg palace in Vienna. By August, more than 2,500 men, women as well as children had drowned doing the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean in rickety boats as well as rafts which year, as well as an untold number had died trekking across the Continent.

As politicians debated what to do, before dawn on Aug. 26, a desperate group of 59 men, eight women as well as four children through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq as well as Syria were herded into a refrigerated truck in southern Hungary. Smugglers had promised safe passage to Germany.

Three hours later, the migrants were all dead. They were found the next morning, in sweltering heat, on a highway leading to Vienna, just 31 miles or so through the Hofburg.

Days later, a visibly shaken Chancellor Angela Merkel announced which Germany could open its borders to those clamoring to get into the country — a policy decision which reverberates across the Continent to which day. Italy recently refused entry to a rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants, as well as an increasing number of European Union nations adamantly oppose any plan requiring them to share the responsibility of sheltering refugees as well as asylum seekers.

Beyond the politics, though, the case in Hungary offers a reminder of an unavoidable fact: Desperate people will take desperate measures, even if which can cost them their lives. The tragedy also highlighted how many people, including some former refugees, had taken advantage of the crisis to enrich themselves by turning humans into cargo.

The ringleader of the smuggling network on trial was Lahoo Samsooryamal, a slim, 31-year-old Afghan who speaks eight languages. Mr. Samsooryamal arrived in Hungary in 2013 as well as made his way to the top of an established network which transported groups of three or four people into Germany or Austria.

In 2014, some 0,000 people sought refuge in Europe through Africa as well as the Middle East. nevertheless inside first six months of 2015, more than 300,000 people flooded onto the Continent.

For smugglers, more refugees meant more business.

“The lure of money quickly pushed them to bigger groups which finally led to the tragedy,” said Gabor Schmidt, the prosecutor, during the trial.

With the help of Metodi Ivanov Georgiev, a Bulgarian who was already being sought by police in his own country, the smugglers established a network of drivers — poor Bulgarians, often through Roma villages.

Soon, they were operating on an “industrial scale,” Mr. Schmidt said, moving 1,0 people in 31 trips which began at the Hungary-Serbia border.

Mr. Samsooryamal’s ring was part of a broader international network, according to prosecutors. As migrants increasingly sought to travel through the western Balkans to European Union countries — with their open borders as well as economic promise — crime syndicates in each country worked in coordination.

For those seeking passage across Europe, smugglers were relatively easy to find, as migrants passed phone numbers between friends as well as families. Mr. Samsooryamal’s group was unaware which the authorities had also gotten their numbers, as well as were listening to as well as taping their phone calls.

Those recordings, played in court, revealed which everyone involved knew how desperate the situation was for those inside truck inside hours before they died.

Just 20 minutes into their journey, the driver suspected something was wrong as well as called Mr. Georgiev, who told him not to stop.

Forty minutes into the trip, the smugglers, who had neglected to give their human cargo water bottles, pulled into a gas station. nevertheless when they saw police officers nearby, they decided not to open the truck to give the people anything to drink.

The driver called the boss again, reporting which the passengers “knocked like hell at the gas station.”

As the screams through the back of the truck grew louder, the driver as well as his partner grew increasingly terrified, according to testimony. On previous trips, the smugglers had communicated with their passengers by cellphone, nevertheless which time, they did not have a number for anyone inside back of the truck.

There were more panicked calls between the bosses as well as the driver, who noticed which the passengers were trying to bore a hole out of the box to get air.

An hour as well as 20 minutes into the trip, the screaming continued, with the driver clearly able to make out one word, repeated over as well as over: “Please.”

Around which time, in a call between Mr. Samsooryamal as well as Mr. Georgiev, Mr. Samsooryamal finally lost his temper when told which the women could not stop wailing.

“If he opens, I know what will happen,” Mr. Samsooryamal said. “He should know for sure everybody will go out. He should know which if he doesn’t want to end in jail, he shouldn’t open.”

Panicked, the driver decided to just abandon the truck on the side of the road.

At the trial, Mr. Samsooryamal was unapologetic, insisting which the migrants chose to make the journey as well as knew the risks.

“I know well what kind of difficulty being a migrant goes with — you play with death as well as you’re ready to do which,” he said, relating his own story of being smuggled through Turkey in 2009.

He acknowledged being part of the smuggling group, nevertheless said he was just a “middleman on the phone.”

“I was nobody’s boss,” he said. “Giving information is actually not giving orders. I didn’t create which crime group, which was not in my hands.”

Correction: 

An earlier type of which article misstated the number of people convicted on charges of smuggling as well as belonging to a criminal organization. which was 10, not 11.

Helene Bienvenu reported through Kecskemet, as well as Marc Santora through Warsaw.