- All 78 men on board were Ethiopians, of whom 64 suffocated to death.
- The truck driver and his assistant, both Mozambicans, were arrested by the police.
- Mozambique is generally a smuggling corridor for migrants seeking their way to South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized country.
Sixty-four people, believed to be undocumented immigrants from Ethiopia, were found dead in a cargo truck in the northwestern Mozambican province of Tete, a senior hospital official confirmed. The victims were discovered in a blue cargo container loaded truck, and they were surrounded by survivors.
Temperatures in Tete are currently around 34 degrees celcius (93 degrees Fahrenheit). “A truck transporting illegal immigrants from Malawi, suspected to be Ethiopians, was stopped at the Mussacana weight bridge in Tete, and 64 people were found dead only 14 survived,” an official who sought anonymity said. “The cause of the death is presumed to be asphyxiation,” he added.
A picture showed the survivors sitting surrounded by corpses. Another showed hospital workers with white plastic aprons and blue face masks, preparing to give first aid to the survivors, and offload the bodies. The bodies were taken to a local morgue.
The spokesperson for the National Migration Service in Tete, Amelia Direito, said that all 78 men on board were Ethiopians, of whom 64 suffocated to death. Direito said the driver had not wanted to stop the vehicle when asked. She added that her colleagues heard noises from the lorry and suspected that migrants might be inside. She was worried about the trafficking issue and said, “this is a worrying situation. We are continuing to tighten the control of the border.”
The truck driver and his assistant, both Mozambicans, were arrested by the police, she added. The driver told the police that he had been promised 30,000 meticais (about $500) to transport the men. The police have launched a manhunt for “the intermediary who facilitated the illegal entry of the Ethiopians into the country,” she said.
According to Tete provincial director of health, Carla Mosse, the migration service had stopped the container truck in the town of Moatize. She said that investigations were ongoing so as to ascertain how the occupants died, but said that asphyxiation was the possible cause of the deaths. The head of public health in Tete, Danilson Goncalves, said that a team of medical experts are going to carry out autopsies on the bodies to confirm this.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in Addis Ababa said it had “confirmed through the Ethiopian embassy in South Africa that many Ethiopians traveling inside a vehicle from Malawi to Mozambique have died.” It said that it was working to establish the numbers of the dead and their identities. “The ministry expresses deep sadness at the tragedy and extends a message of strength to the family and friends of the deceased,” it said.
The migrants were on a well-known trafficking route to South Africa. Mozambique is generally a smuggling corridor for migrants seeking their way to South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized country. It is a hot spot for poor migrants, not only from neighboring countries, like Zimbabwe and Lesotho, but even nations further afield, like Ethiopia.