Immigration officers in Mozambique’s Western province of Tete made a horrific discovery on 24th March when they were alerted to sounds coming from the goods container of a lorry. Inside were 78 Ethiopian nationals, 64 of whom had suffocated and died in the packed lorry, which had just crossed illegally from Malawi.
Ongoing political unrest and the internal displacement of one million people has contributed to the outward flow of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Many of these take the “Southern Route” to South Africa every year, via Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi, often with the help of smugglers.
COVID-19 border closures have meant that some have found themselves trapped on the way. On 27th February, the Ethiopian government transported home 1400 nationals stranded in Tanzania. Mozambique began implementing border controls on people from the 20th March in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19, prior to closing its borders entirely to foreigners, effective 31st March.
This tragic loss of life has sparked fears that smugglers may looking for opportunities to exploit these restrictions, and that migrants and refugees may resort to increasingly dangerous transportation arrangements in order to bypass checkpoints. Recent reports by the Global Campaign Against Transnational Crime have already noted an increase in the number of fatalities among those smuggled through the Sahel, North Africa and onwards into Europe.
The driver of the lorry and another suspect have been detained.
Lead Photo: Road in Malawi by ROBERT ALEXANDER WILSON