ADDIS ABEBA – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed on Tuesday condolences over the death dozens of migrants, suspected to be Ethiopians, in Mozambique.
The bodies of 64 men were discovered asphyxiated in a sealed shipping container on the back of a truck at a checkpoint in Tete, Mozambique on Tuesday morning.
Fourteen others rescued when authorities opened the container, are being treated in hospital.
“I learned with a heavy heart of the deaths of many en route to Mozambique from Malawi,” he said. “Ethiopians may also have been among the dead.”
He said ministry of foreign affairs “is closely working with the relevant authorities to find out the identities and other details of the deceased”.
The Mozambican driver of the vehicle is in custody.
The survivors are deeply traumatized, said the head of Tete Provincial branch of the National Migration Service of Mozambique (SENAMI) said.
The men, who were carrying no documents, have told SENAMI they are Ethiopians traveling to South Africa, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Tete is roughly 4,000 kms south of Addis Ababa, and 1,400 kms north of Pretoria, in South Africa.
The UN migration agency added it is coordinating with Mozambican officials to provide immediate assistance to the survivors, who are being treated for severe dehydration and exhaustion, including food and clothing.
Mozambique is located along a migration corridor, the so-called Southern Route, frequently used by migrants from East and the Horn of Africa to travel to South Africa in search of protection, economic and education opportunities.
IOM Mozambique has helped more than 400 Ethiopians voluntarily return home since 2018.
Latest stats show that South Africa was home to about 4.2 million migrants, and 290,000 asylum seekers and refugees. Zimbabwe, Somalia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia were the main source countries.
Highway deaths, mainly caused by vehicular accidents, claimed the lives of nearly 70 migrants in Mozambique over the last five years, according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.
Most were Ethiopians bound for South Africa, although in one incident in 2017, 11 Malawians died in an accident in Tsangano, just inside Mozambique’s border with Malawi.
The following year, 12 Ethiopians died and 15 were injured in another crash, also in Tsagano. IOM recorded no deaths of migrants in Mozambique in 2019.
Image: The lorry was found in Moatize, near this bridge crossing the Zambezi river