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Four arraigned in deaths of 71 refugees

Four men, arrested in connection with the death of 71 refugees found in the back of a truck that apparently traveled from Hungary and was abandoned in Austria, could each be sentenced to 16 years in prison, a spokesman for the court in the central-Hungarian city of Kecskemét said on August 29. Murder charges could add to that penalty.

Two of the suspects being taken to court on Saturday.

The men, three Bulgarians, aged 29, 30 and 50, and an Afghan, aged 28, were arraigned in Kecskemét court on Saturday and are facing charges of human trafficking, torture and participating in organized crime, said Ferenc Bicskei, head of the court in Kecskemét, according to the Wall Street Journal. The men, who are not yet facing charges of manslaughter because the details of the deaths are still being determined, are to be held for 30 days while investigators build their case. By law, they cannot be named until they are sentenced.

The truck, which had Hungarian license plates, was found parked on the side of the A4 highway, near Pandorf, Austria, on August 27. Austrian officials are cooperating with their Hungarian counterparts and are said to be building their own case, which could include murder charges.

The 59 men, eight women and four children found in the back of the truck apparently suffocated to death two days before the vehicle was found, and their bodies had begun to decompose, according to police. The only identification found was one Syrian travel document, but officials said they believe most of the victims were from Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the truck’s cargo area was six meters long and 2.5 meters wide, so that there were about five people per square meter inside. Officials said the cargo area had no ventilation. There is evidence that the victims may have damaged the truck in an effort to escape, and that the cargo door may have been wired shut.

Investigators said the truck, which had a Hungarian license plate, started its journey in Kecskemét and picked up the refugees near Hungary’s border.