Three young children suffering from dehydration and close to death have been rescued from a van crammed with 26 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Austrian police said on Saturday.
The two girls and a boy, aged five and six, were found in a dire state when police stopped the vehicle after a chase near the Austrian town of St. Peter am Hart on the border with Germany, a police spokesman said. They are recovering in a nearby hospital.
"The emergency doctor told us they would not have made it much longer — two, maybe three hours," said David Furtner, police spokesman for Upper Austria province.
The incident follows the discovery of the corpses of 71 refugees in an abandoned lorry on an Austrian highway on Thursday — victims of an unfolding tragedy as refugees and migrants escaping conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East flock to Europe in unprecedented numbers.
The International Organization for Migration estimates more than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, leaving from Libya, Turkey and other countries to land in Europe.
Hundreds have drowned in shipwrecks but the recent deaths on land have exposed another horrific side of the people-smuggling racket.
"The driver did not give a damn about the people in the back. We would not transport animals under these conditions on our roads in Austria," said Furtner, referring to Friday's discovery.
Austria lies on the way from poorer countries in southern and eastern Europe where many refugees first land, such as Greece, to more prosperous nations in the north and west.
The 29-year-old Romanian driver of the van found on Friday was arrested. The children and their parents were taken to the hospital in Braunau, where they are now in a stable condition.
Among the dead found in the truck on Thursday, four were children, one of them a baby girl, police said on Saturday. They were presumed to be from Syria — in the grip of a four-year-old civil war — or possibly Afghanistan.
Three Bulgarians and an Afghan arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths made their first appearance in a court in the central Hungarian town of Kecskemet on Saturday. They were given one month's detention pending further proceedings.
On another front in the crisis, Libyan authorities arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in launching a boat packed with migrants that sank off the country's Mediterranean coast, killing up to 200 people, a security official said.
The head of the European Parliament meanwhile said the "glaring failures" of some European countries to take in refugees were turning the Mediterranean into a mass grave.
Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat, said those European governments that had resisted European Union proposals to agree a common plan must do more to deal with the crisis.
He did not single out any states. However, Hungary, which is part of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to contain what it calls a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.
"The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave, gruesome scenes play out at borders, there is mutual blame — and those in greatest need, seeking our protection, are left without help," Schulz told Germany's Die Welt newspaper.