Austria refugee lorry 70 dead
The truck in which more than 70 migrants were found dead near Parndorf in Austria Reuters

More than 70 dead refugees have been found crammed in the back of a lorry in Austria, the country's interior ministry has said.

The vehicle was found parked on the hard shoulder of a highway near the eastern town of Parndorf, not far from the border with Hungary and Slovakia on Thursday as EU representatives met with their non-EU Balkan in Vienna to discuss the migrant crisis.

"This reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find solutions in the spirit of solidarity," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the conference.

A manhunt has been launched for the driver of the truck, which formerly belonged to a Slovakian food company but had Hungarian license plates. Authorities said it was now registered to a Romanian citizen living in central Hungary.

The lorry was spotted at a nearby service station by staff, who became suspicious when it had not moved for a long time. Police were called and they made the grim discovery. They said the refugees had been dead for up to two days, as some corpses appeared to be partially decomposed in the summer heat.

An early assessment said the victims were all aged between 20 and 50. Their nationalities and cause of death are not yet clear, although it is possible they died of asphyxiation.

The truck had likely crossed from Hungary, which has become the entry point to Europe for thousands asylum-seekers fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

The migrants reach Greece via boat and then move north by land through Macedonia and on to Serbia and Hungary, with Germany and other northern EU states their final destinations.

At the Western Balkans conference in Vienna, Austria's foreign minister proposed a plan that included a centre to process asylum applications for the EU in the Balkans, a security upgrade on Europe's outer borders and refugee quotas for each member state.