After 18 Afghan migrants were found in a truck left on a Bulgarian dirt road, six people were charged with human trafficking.
Officials claimed that the driver refused to stop the truck even though he was repeatedly banged on by 52 people hiding in compartments.
Borislav Sarafov, head of the National Investigative Service, said that the victims died from a combination lack of oxygen and difficulty breathing. They were crammed into a truck “like a tin can”.
“The victims died slowly and painfully.”
He said, “This case shows extreme cruelty and demonstrates how migrants should be shipped from place to place, regardless of whether or not they are alive or deceased.”
The remaining 34 migrants, who were found Friday near Sofia, are still in stable condition in hospital.
Five of the five people charged are currently in custody. One of the suspected traffickers who managed to escape the country is being sought with an European arrest warrant.
Prosecutors claimed that the ring trafficked migrants across the border with Turkey to Serbia and then on to Britain, Germany, France.
Both the truck driver and his companion were also accused in connection to the deaths.
This incident shocked Bulgaria and is considered one of the most serious on the overland route from the Balkans to Europe.
Bulgaria is an entry point for migrants who are coming to the European Union via Turkey. The government has been accused in the mistreatment of refugees trying to reach Europe.
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Sky News reported that officials at the border of Turkey and Bulgaria had killed an asylum seeker last October, after they caught a group of illegal immigrants.
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. It hopes to become a Schengen member, which allows people to freely move across borders within the Schengen region.
More than 150,000 people tried to cross the border into Turkey last year. This was four times more than the previous year.