Sixty-four migrants from Ethiopia were found dead on Tuesday, crammed inside a freight container in northwestern Mozambique, a senior hospital official said.
The victims were discovered in a blue cargo container loaded on a truck. They were surrounded by survivors in temperatures of about 34°C.
“A truck transporting illegal immigrants from Malawi, suspected to be Ethiopians, was stopped at the Mussacana weight bridge in Tete [Province] 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,” the official added.
A picture showed survivors sitting surrounded by corpses.
Another showed hospital workers with white plastic aprons and blue masks preparing to offer first aid to the survivors, and offload the bodies.
The bodies were taken to a local morgue.
Spokesman Filmao Suaze said that the Mozambique government, in conjunction with the Ethiopian embassy in Maputo, had launched an “investigation to bring the responsible to justice.”
Provincial immigration spokesman Amelia Direito told reporters in Tete Province that all the 78 people aboard were Ethiopian men, of whom 64 suffocated to death.
“The truck driver and his assistant [both Mozambicans] have been arrested by the police,” Direito said.
The driver told police that he had been promised 30,000 meticais (US$451) to transport the men, she said.
Police have launched a manhunt for “the intermediary who facilitated the illegal entry of the Ethiopians into the country,” she added.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it had “confirmed through the Ethiopian embassy in South Africa that many Ethiopians traveling inside a vehicle from Malawi to Mozambique have died.”
The embassy 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 International Organization for Migration said that the 14 survivors were being treated for severe dehydration and exhaustion.
Mozambique is seen as a smuggling corridor for migrants seeking to make their way to South Africa.
South Africa — the continent’s most industrialized nation — is a magnet for poor migrants not only from neighboring nations such as Lesotho and Zimbabwe, but even nations further afield, such as Ethiopia.
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