Addis Ababa (AFP) – As the truck travelled south, Yosef Moliso and the other Ethiopian migrants trapped inside its sealed cargo container pounded on the walls for help while struggling to breathe.
By the time border guards in Mozambique stopped the vehicle for inspection, Yosef had passed out, though it could have been much worse: 64 of his fellow migrants were already dead of asphyxiation.
“It was very hot inside, like a fire burning,” recalled Yosef, one of just 14 survivors of the ill-fated attempt to reach South Africa, where the migrants hoped to earn enough money to lift their families back in Ethiopia out of poverty.
“If I ever run into the people responsible, I’ll grab them and scream at them until the police come.”
Ethiopia is one of the top five source countries for the more than four million migrants in South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The deaths in March — one of the worst such incidents for Ethiopian migrants in recent memory — spotlighted the dangers faced by thousands of young men who travel along what’s known as the “Southern Route” each year.
But the path ahead for the few who survived helps explain why the route remains so popular.
On Friday Yosef and 10 other migrants were scheduled to leave a centre run by the IOM to board buses back to their home regions.
In interviews with AFP, the men said they were happy to be back in Ethiopia, but admitted they had only hazy ideas of how they might support themselves in the future.
“It’s not easy to be a young Ethiopian boy, to just sit at home and not have a job. That is what’s forcing them to leave,” said Sara Basha, programme coordinator for IOM Ethiopia.
“Once they come back home, with incidents like this, they go back to a community where they have nothing again. They’re still vulnerable, so frustration might lead them to decide to leave again.”