Ethiopia to investigate after 27 bodies discovered in Zambia

UN migration agency ‘profoundly shocked and alarmed’ by the incident along the southern migration route from the Horn of Africa to South Africa.

An Ethiopian migrant
Ethiopian migrants often use Zambia when travelling to countries such as South Africa [File: Tony Karumba/AFP]

Ethiopia’s government will investigate the reported deaths of 27 of its citizens found dumped near Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, a discovery that has “alarmed” the United Nations’ migration agency.

Zambian police found the bodies of the 27 men on Sunday in Chongwe Ngwerere, a farming area on the outskirts of the capital. They died from suspected hunger and exhaustion, authorities said, and were believed to be migrants from Ethiopia.

On Monday, the state Ethiopia News Agency said its country will send experts to the area to confirm the identities of the citizens who reportedly died while attempting to cross into South Africa illegally.

Zambian police said preliminary investigations showed the victims were all aged between 20 and 38, and their bodies had been dumped along a road by unknown people. Officers found a 28th man “gasping for breath” and he was taken to hospital.

Ethiopian migrants often use Zambia when travelling to countries such as South Africa.

On Monday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was “profoundly shocked and alarmed” by the discovery.

In a statement it noted that the tragedy comes less than two months after the bodies of 30 Ethiopian migrants were discovered in a mass grave in neighbouring Malawi. Two years earlier, 64 Ethiopian men were found dead in a sealed shipping container in Mozambique.

The deaths highlight the “urgent need” to address the challenges of irregular migration, including through a transnational response to the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in people along the “Southern Route” which runs from the Horn of Africa to southern Africa, the IOM said.

“Irregular migration along the Southern Route is often facilitated by an intricate network of smugglers and traffickers engaging in aggravated smuggling or trafficking – aggressive attempts to avoid detection by authorities that put migrants’ lives in danger,” it added.

“Aggravated smuggling or trafficking increases migrants’ risks on a route that already includes natural hazards, utilisation of unsafe means of transportation, exploitation, and other abuses. Migrants on this route are often subject to detention, violence, and even death.”

The IOM called on governments along the route to “enhance regional cooperation to ensure the safety and protection of migrants, regardless of their status and across all stages of their journeys”.

According to the Missing Migrants Project, more than 900 Ethiopians have died on migration routes since 2014.

Zambia, a Southern African country with about 18 million inhabitants, has been fighting human smuggling for years. According to the refugee agency UNHCR, it has taken in more than 105,000 refugees from neighbouring countries such as the Republic of Congo, Burundi, Angola and Rwanda.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies