A van crowded with 23 migrants crashed after a high-speed police chase on a highway near Germany’s southern border Friday, killing seven people and injuring 16 others. Among the dead was a six-year-old child.
The migrants in the van all carried either Turkish or Syrian papers, according to police.
German immigration authorities say an increasing number of migrants are attempting to enter the country, often smuggled across the border in vans and trucks. Bavarian officials said that since March, they have noticed more transports of 10 or more migrants. The federal police, responsible for borders, documented 138 cases of human smuggling in Bavaria in the month of August alone.
Immigration has become a contentious issue in Germany: In a recent poll, 44 percent of respondents called it their principal worry. And populist politicians, touting an anti-refugee line, made major gains in two state elections earlier this month and are polling at record highs.
The autobahn where the crash occurred is locally known as a trafficking route. But a majority of migrants trying to enter Germany do so by crossing the country’s eastern border.
Just after 3 a.m. Friday, a federal police cruiser noticed the dark Mercedes van with Austrian plates heading toward Munich on the autobahn about 30 miles east of the Austrian border. When police signaled for the driver to stop, the car accelerated to 112 miles per hour, according to the police officers involved. The driver then lost control of the van and it swerved off the road, flipping over and flinging out some of the passengers, before coming to a stop.
The group of migrants crammed into the van included seven children. The driver, a 24-year-old stateless man living in Austria, was taken to the hospital and then arrested by police. The local state attorney’s office is considering bringing manslaughter charges in connection with the crash.
Less than two weeks ago on that same stretch of border, police arrested a Czech national who had rammed a police car with a van carrying 15 migrants.
In a statement, Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, called the crash on Friday “a terrible event,” and said it “shows the cruel and inhumane way in which smugglers put people’s lives at risk.”
Late last month Ms. Faeser, who is responsible for refugees in Germany, announced a plan that would make it easier to deport asylum seekers whose applications were rejected and those who had committed crimes in Germany.
Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees registered roughly a quarter of a million applications for asylum in the first nine months of this year. That’s already more than all of the asylum cases entered last year, but nowhere close to the three-quarters of a million registered in Germany at the peak of the last migration wave in 2015 and 2016.
Joachim Herrmann, the state politician responsible for public safety in Bavaria, said the accident showed the need for more control on Bavarian borders.
“This incident too shows how important it is to further strengthen immediate border controls in order to stop smugglers already at the border,” Mr. Herrmann, told dpa, a German news wire.