An international migration watcher says 19 Ethiopian migrants suffocated to death earlier this month along Zambia's border with Congo inside a container truck, where survivors inside banged on the sides until border officials opened it.
The International Organization for Migration reports the deaths occurred as the victims were being transported by a suspected trafficking syndicate in Chembe district in Luapula Province of Zambia. It says they were crammed into the truck, which was carrying bags of beans and groundnuts.
Spokesman Joel Millman says data on migrant deaths in this region is unreliable. He says the media rarely reports on this lethal illegal smugglers’ trade, so it is hard to know how many migrants lose their lives while transiting through Zambia to South Africa.
Millman told VOA this particular incident was widely reported in the Zambian media. This, because pedestrians heard pounding from inside the containerized truck while stopped at a checkpoint and alerted the authorities. He says authorities found at least 19 dead migrants when they opened the container.
“There were almost 100 in the container. Happily, most of them survived. But, you can just imagine, if they had not heard the pounding, what could have happened an hour later," he said.
Millman says 76 survivors, including 18 children are being transferred to a protective shelter run by the IOM. He says migrants routinely die while being trafficked, but this incident represents the largest number of known migrant deaths.
“There have been some amazing, horrifying cases on that route in the past. I think it was last year or two years ago, there was an incident of drowned migrants who were being seen eaten by alligators or crocodiles," Millman said. "So, we know it is a real tough migrant route and some of the casualties have been horrific. But, we had not seen a container truck and suffocation like this before.”
IOM reports a recent rise in the number of irregular migrants, particularly from the Horn of Africa, entering Zambia. It says irregular migrants are detained and put in prisons. It says most of those taking this smuggler’s route are Ethiopians, but other nationalities include Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe.