More than 60 people believed to be migrants from Ethiopia have been found dead in a cargo container in Mozambique’s northwest Tete province, according to officials.
Police and immigration authorities stopped the truck en route from Malawi in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the province of Tete, bordered by Malawi on one side and Zimbabwe on the other.
Amelia Direito, spokeswoman for Tete migration services, said the officials checked the container after hearing banging coming from inside. They found 14 people alive among the bodies of 64 who had died from suspected asphyxiation.
“The truck driver and his assistant (both Mozambicans) have been arrested by the police,” Direito said.
She added the driver told police he had been promised 30,000 meticais (about $500) 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.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the survivors were being treated for severe dehydration and exhaustion.
Mozambique is generally seen as a smuggling corridor for migrants seeking to make their way to South Africa.
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 also from nations further afield, such as Ethiopia.