MAPUTO – Sixty-four people from Ethiopia have been found dead crammed inside a freight container in north-west Mozambique, a senior hospital official has said.
The victims were discovered on Tuesday in a blue cargo container loaded on to a truck in the province of Tete. They were surrounded by survivors. Daily temperature highs in Tete are currently about 34C (93F).
“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,” said the official, who asked not be named as he did not have the authority to speak to the media. “The cause of death is presumed to be asphyxiation.”
A picture showed a few survivors sitting surrounded by corpses, and another showed hospital workers with white plastic aprons and blue face masks, preparing to offer first aid to survivors and offload the bodies, which were taken to a local morgue.
Amélia Direito, a provincial immigration spokeswoman, said all 78 people in the container were Ethiopian men, of whom 64 suffocated.
“The truck driver and his assistant (both Mozambicans) have been arrested by the police,” said Direito.
She said the driver told police he had been promised 30,000 meticais (about £385) to transport the men. Police have launched a manhunt for “the intermediary who facilitated the illegal entry of the Ethiopians into the country”, she said.
The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa said it had “confirmed through the Ethiopian embassy in South Africa that many Ethiopians travelling inside a vehicle from Malawi to Mozambique have died”. It said 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.
Mozambique is generally seen as a smuggling corridor for migrants seeking to make their way to South Africa. The continent’s most industrialised country is a magnet for poor migrants not only from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho and Zimbabwe, but nations further afield, such as Ethiopia.