Bulgaria charges six over death of Afghan migrants in truck

Bulgarian prosecutors have indicted six people over the deaths of 18 Afghans who suffocated in a truck later left abandoned outside the capital Sofia this week.

The discovery Friday came as the country struggles with a surge in illicit border crossings, and has been reported as the deadliest incident linked to people smuggling that the country has seen.

The truck was transporting 52 Afghans packed under wooden planks who had arrived from Turkey and were heading toward Western Europe via Serbia, initial investigations showed.

The 18 victims died from suffocation and the rest were this week reported to have been in a bad condition and had been taken to hospital.

According to a spokesman for the Sofia Public Prosecutor’s Office, six people, all Bulgarians, including the alleged ringleader of the smuggling group, have been indicted in the case.

If found guilty, they face up to 15 years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter and participating in organized crime and people smuggling.

According to the prosecutor’s office, one of the suspects remains at large and was indicted in absentia, while two others who had been arrested are not expected to be charged.

Deputy Attorney General Borislav Sarafov meanwhile told reporters that investigators say the truck’s drivers heard loud noises and knocks coming from the back but only stopped later. When they discovered the dead victims they abandoned the truck and fled.

“The people transported were curled up and pushed against each other like in a tin can… They died slowly and painfully for 30 to 60 minutes. It is an extraordinary human tragedy,” Sarafov said.

Some of the 34 people who were rescued remain in hospital, some for carbon monoxide poisoning from inhaling exhaust pipe gasses.

The victims, believed to be aged between 13 to 35, had paid up to 7,000 euros ($7,500) each to the smugglers, Sarafov said.

“It was out of greed that the smugglers carried 52 people. They had previously transported between 25 and 35 people at a time, at least twice a month,” he said, adding that the hiding places were lined with aluminum foil to make the migrants’ presence undetectable to thermal cameras.