Ethiopian migrants remember horrific experience when 64 colleagues died in metal container

ADDIS ABABA – Two of the 14 survivors of illegal cross-border movements that have become tragic shared their horrific experiences throughout their deaths in the most terrifying incident in the world earlier this year.

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Dejene Degefa and another friend, Muguleta, told Reuters how they had suffocated inside a metal container between the border of Malawi and Mozambique, where they had chosen to cross to South Africa.

Locked in from the outside, the two struggled to be aware as 64 others succumbed to starvation of essential oxygen, forcing them to pass out as they watched for possible death in the wilderness.

When police finally seized the container on March 24, only 14 people were found alive out of the 78 who had traveled from Ethiopia, Africa’s most dynamic economic giant, which has its own share of challenges.

“I was beating the sides of the container; I even beat people near me, “said Dejene, 18, quoted by Reuters. “I knew others were dying and I felt in my heart that I was dying too.”

After their rescue, they were taken to a hospital on the border with Mozambique, where they were detained for two weeks before being repatriated to Ethiopia. They were helped by the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency that helps migrants around the world.

When they returned home, the two had to wait another 14 days under government regulations for travelers, which requires them to be quarantined due to the raging coronavirus pandemic. They met their families after this period.

As in many parts of North Africa, the team traveled abroad to seek employment due to the poverty at home. South Africa is one of the popular destinations for migrants despite frequent xenophobic attacks.

Before traveling to Mozambique, Dejene said, the team was put in a small container to facilitate the crossing, but smugglers went wild, forcing the desperate group inside.

During this process, many passed out as panic engulfed the living in the container. Just before their rescue, 64 were already dead, leaving only 14, also weak and passed out.

Dejene’s friend Mulugeta, 19, told Reuters how he helped save the group by hitting the side of the truck when he heard voices at a checkpoint. When the doors opened, he transported Dejene unconscious outside.

“When I opened my eyes … I saw that the sky was cloudy and that’s how I knew I was alive,” Dejene told Reuters.

Fifth-year dropout from the southern region of Ethiopia, he left his village in September 2019 with 3000 birr [$90] and an identity card. Dejene will never try to return to South Africa, he said. All he wants is to see his family.

“I would rather beg for food than go home,” he said. “I wish I could kiss everyone I know, but given the current circumstances, I can only welcome them from afar.”

Ethiopia is currently experiencing a socio-economic and geopolitical revolution following the seizure of power by the Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed. The Reform PM took over in April 2018 and has since been credited with a massive economic revolution.

But despite this, many Ethiopians are still leaving en masse due to uneven development across the country, their popular destinations being South Africa, Kenya, Europe and the Middle East, according to reports.


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