MAINZ, Germany — Austrian prison authorities are grappling with “overcrowding” due to the number of people-smugglers who have been arrested at the country’s borders amid Europe's migration crisis.
“Ten of the 27 Austrian prisons are overstrained,” Josef Schmoll, a spokesman at the Justice Department told NBC News. He added that "more than 500" human-traffickers have been sentenced to prison terms or were awaiting trial in Austrian jails.
Officials say the influx of migrants and refugees over the past month has also increased the number of criminals who are attempting to smuggle people across the border.
Prison officials are “not yet facing emergency conditions, but the situation is very tense,” Schmoll added.
In September, Austria recorded a total of 10,000 asylum applications. However, that figure doesn't include the tens of thousands of migrants who have passed through Austria on their journey to Germany and other western European countries.
Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, a spokesman at Austria’s interior ministry, said that Hungary's decision to close its borders to migrants last month has "increased trafficking crime significantly."
Prisons like Eisenstadt in eastern Austria have reached far more than 100 percent of their capacity, forcing officials to put bunk beds into small solitary confinement cells and to transfer some suspects to detention centers in the western part of the country.
“We also face the challenge that accomplices need to be separated,” Schmoll explained, adding that most of the suspects were from Romania and Bulgaria.
In August, 71 people were found dead in the back of a smuggler’s truck that had been abandoned on an Austrian highway.
The 7.5-ton vehicle once belonged to a Slovakian poultry producer but had been sold and was registered to a Romanian citizen based in the Hungarian city of Kecskemét, officials said.