Seven dead after suspected people smuggler crashes van on German motorway

BERLIN (Reuters) – Seven people were killed and more than a dozen injured when a suspected people smuggler lost control of a van carrying migrants while being chased by police along a southern German motorway, authorities said on Friday.

The vehicle overturned several times before coming to rest upside down next to a barrier as the driver, who had accelerated to dangerously high speeds, sought to exit the A94 motorway at a junction east of Munich, police said.

The Mercedes Vito van was carrying 22 Syrian and Turkish migrants, including several children.

Seven people died in the crash, including a six-year-old child, and the remaining passengers were hospitalised with injuries, some severe.

Police said a 24-year-old suspect, a stateless resident of Austria, was detained in hospital, and that the van had Austrian licence plates.

Authorities opened a manslaughter investigation and prosecutors are set to apply for an arrest warrant later on Friday, police said.

About 60 firefighters, some 90 rescue workers, 12 emergency doctors and two crisis intervention teams attended the scene of crash in what police called a “very stressful operation.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement that the shocking incident demonstrated the need for the government to crack down on the “cruel business” of people smuggling.

Last month, German authorities imposed new border controls with Poland and the Czech Republic, saying these were necessary to tackle people smuggling and protect the European Union’s fragile open border system.

In August, registered illegal border crossings into Germany reached 14,701, up 66% year-on-year, while first-time asylum requests rose 78% in the first seven months of 2023, according to official data.

Tensions surrounding the migrant influx are high, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the opposition conservatives and regional representatives convening for an emergency meeting on the issue later on Friday.

Asked whether police may have played a part in events that led to Friday’s crash, an interior ministry spokesperson told reporters there was no indication that this was the case.

(Reporting by Friederike Heine; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Christina Fincher, Miranda Murray and John Stonestreet)