HOW 43 Ethiopian migrants suffocated to death inside a truck is a riddle that police in Tanzania are trying to unravel as they hunt for the driver who drove them, before dumping their dead bodies and abandoning other survivors by a roadside.
A Tanzanian police spokesman, Luppy Kung’alo, while speaking on the incident, revealed that “a man-hunt is going on for the driver of the lorry that abandoned the Ethiopian immigrants by the roadside.”
Eighty-two other people were inside the truck in central Dodoma province on Tuesday, around 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of the economic capital, Dar es Salaam, police said, as they updated an earlier death toll of 42.
Survivors told police that while they were locked inside the truck, they had screamed to the driver to stop after several people passed out due to lack of air, said local police chief, Zelothe Stephen. When the driver finally stopped, he ordered the migrants dump the corpses and clean the truck, but then roared off leaving the Ethiopians behind in a remote area.
“After they cleaned up, he got in and drove off leaving both the bodies and the survivors,” Kung’alo said. “People from nearby villages saw the bodies lying next to the road, and later they saw people crossing into the wilderness trying to head into a nearby village,” Stephen said.
The migrants are believed to have left their native Ethiopia several months ago and were heading south towards Malawi, officials said. “Preliminary reports have it that the immigrants were destined to Malawi,” Deputy Interior Minister Pereira Silima said yesterday.
Their likely route took them through Arusha in northern Tanzania towards the southern town of Mbeya and eventually across the border to Malawi, he said. The bodies, a number of which were already decomposing, were taken to a government hospital.
Survivors have received medical treatment and are being looked after by the police. Last week, the bodies of 47 Ethiopians were recovered from Lake Malawi, which forms much of the border with Tanzania, after their overcrowded boat capsized.
In December, 20 Somali immigrants were found dead in Tanzania. The foreign ministry said at the time that an increasing number of Ethiopians and Somalis were crossing the country to make their way to South Africa, the continent’s top economy.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled the lawless Horn of Africa country since the collapse of a formal government two decades ago, while crippling drought racked both Somalia and Ethiopia last year.