When a few beers later, truck driver forgot about his human cargo


Some of the 60 Ethiopians arrested on Friday and Saturday appear at Makindu Law courts in Makueni. [Standard]

On Friday last week around 9 am, commercial truck driver Martin Ndunda parked his lorry at Daraja Mbili market and proceeded to his favourite bar.

Daraja Mbili is a developing trading centre between Masimba and Kiboko, along the Mombasa - Nairobi highway.

Witnesses said Ndunda had a good time at the bar at the centre- popular with truck drivers. Drinks are fairly priced, and food is also plenty.

And as the police later told the court, 60 foreign immigrants had been locked in Ndunda's truck as he enjoyed himself. There were reports that the foreigners were suffocating before breaking out. This was six hours after Ndunda had parked the truck.

"We saw many men coming out from an opening on the tarpaulin. They were jumping out and disappearing into the nearby bush. They looked suspicious and tired. We suspected they were foreigners," Francisca Kyengo, a trader at Daraja Mbili market told The Standard.

Ndunda had already delivered cement to Mombasa and was heading back to Nairobi.

Residents chased and arrested the immigrants. Witnesses said they feared that the strangers were terrorists.

"Everyone was afraid but some bold men caught up with them and brought them to the market. They didn't speak English or any local language. Out of compassion, we served them some food and water so they could recover some energy," said Kyengo.

By this time, a report had been made at Kiboko Police patrol base. The officers arrived moments later and took the suspects into custody.

"Through the help of villagers and traders, the police were able to arrest 52 men who turned out to be Ethiopians. Eight more were arrested the following day, on Saturday. Some were arrested while walking along the busy northern corridor and others while wandering in villages,” said Makueni County Police Commander Joseph Ole Napeiyan.

He said the police have intensified operations along the highway over fears it might be used in trafficking Ethiopians fleeing the conflict in the troubled Tigray region. Trouble in Tigray region started in November 2020 as federal forces engaged the northern regional government forces in battle. Thousands of people have been killed and others displaced.

Napeiyan said the Ethiopians have been tested for Covid-19 at Makindu sub-county hospital.

Ndunda was arraigned before Makindu Law Courts on the same day where he was charged with engaging in human trafficking. He however denied the charge before Principal Magistrate Jared Makori and was released on an Sh500,000 bond.

However, he failed to secure the bond and is being held at Makueni GK prisons remand.

The foreigners were also presented before court and charged with being in the country illegally.

However, they did not take a plea due to a language barrier -  they cannot speak English or Kiswahili. Makori directed they will plead to the charge on Wednesday after the court has secured an interpreter.

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