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. Fourteen others rescued when authorities opened the container, are being treated in hospital.
The head of the Tete Provincial branch of the National Migration Service of Mozambique (SENAMI) told staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that the Mozambican driver of the vehicle is in custody. The survivors are deeply traumatized the official said.
The men, who were carrying no documents, have told SENAMI they are Ethiopians traveling to South Africa. Tete is roughly 4,000 kms south of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and 1,400 kms north of Pretoria, in South Africa.
IOM is coordinating with SENAMI 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.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), in 2019 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.