Journeys of Desperation: The Sad Endpoints of the Odyssey of Mass Humanoid Migrations in the 21st Century (Part 3)


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

(Please note that certain images in this publication may be disturbing to some readers.  Parental guidance is advised.)

‘The Migrant Death Trucks; Cursed Mass Coffin on Wheels’[1]

A Sad Endpoint of the Desperate Migrant Journeys: Thai rescue workers inspect dead bodies of 54 irregular labourers from Myanmar found dead in a container truck in southern Thailand in April 10, 2008. Photo: epa Str/dpa/picture-alliance

In Part 2 of this theme series[2], the author described the serious challenges facing the migrants and the dangers encountered on the unknown desperate journeys, which the migrants undertake from the respective homelands due to multiple reasons.  In most cases the reason for the mass exodus of humanoids is guaranteed death from belligerence against them, if these displaced humanity remains in their county of origins.

This paper examines some of the reported incidents of mass deaths of migrants, which occurred  while in transit from their respective countries of origin to the “beautiful promised land where the pastures are reportedly greener” However, the sad predestination of these unfortunate mass of humanity does not live to experience their dreams and their youth, but their arduous lives are terminated by being exposed to horrendous transit conditions.  Only their dead, lifeless bodies are receiving the privilege of arriving in the “Promised Land”, only to be interred or cremated and their ashes are disposed by the government appointed funeral directors, as a final tribute to these migrants.  These same humanoids, when alive, had hoped to establish a better life for themselves and later their oved ones, in a foreign country, which realistically is not wanting them.  In the final analysis, all the aspirations of the pathetic lot of the migrants,  were laid to rest and often, only their decomposed bodies are received by the police and health officials from the transit containers. which are then, their “coffins on wheels”.

Drone, aerial picture of the migrant smuggler truck with bodies under the red tarpaulin. Law Enforcement Officers reported that the migrants inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, were covered in spices to hide body odour. This was later reported to be incorrect. Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

On Monday, 27th June, international media relayed live broadcasts, of an unfolding story, of yet another episode in the sad saga of migrant deaths, while being smuggled by human traffickers into United States. The gruesome discovery of at least 46 dead migrants inside an abandoned 18-wheeler, trailer truck, near San Antonio in the United States, is a tragic reminder of the dangers migrants face globally, while trying to reach “greener pastures” in first world countries. They often use the help of ruthless smugglers and traffickers who are frequently arrested for cramming people in trucks.   Deadly discoveries of decomposing corpses, within the heated and closed confines of large transport trucks, such as the San Antonio finding is not something new, but it is surprising that with the detection technology at the disposal of the United States government, border authorities, together with intelligence reports was unable to prevent this tragedy from occurring.

The victims were discovered inside the 18-wheeler on Quintana Road in San Antonio, just before 1800 hours, local time, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. Officials said that 16 survivors, including four minors, were rushed to area hospitals for heatstroke and dehydration related conditions.  The discovery came after a nearby worker heard a cry for help and found the trailer with its doors partially open and bodies inside, police said.  The First responders found one body outside the truck and dozens more inside. “We’re not supposed to be able to open a truck and see stacks of bodies in there,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.  The sweltering tractor-trailer that carried scores of migrants to their doom in Texas was painted to resemble a vehicle owned by a local trucking company, right down to its registration numbers, according to a report. The owners of Betancourt Trucking and Harvesting, Felipe Betancourt Sr. and his son, Felipe Jr., told the San Antonio Express-News that someone “cloned” their refrigerated trailer as part of the deadly smuggling scheme. “Ours is sitting right here,” Felipe Jr. said. “My truck doesn’t have a window on the side like the one in San Antonio. … That one in San Antonio is not our trailer.”  Although the copycat truck was painted in the same colours as the Betancourt’s and had the same federal and state registration numbers, it was missing their company’s logo.  While the truck in San Antonio was made to look like a refrigerated truck, “There was no visible working air-condition unit on that rig,” said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.  A cry for help coming from the 18-wheeler that was found abandoned on the southern outskirts of San Antonio led to the discovery of “stacks of bodies’’ inside the vehicle, officials said.  Bodies were found for blocks around the truck’s location, suggesting that some of the migrants had tried to make their escape while the vehicle was still moving, the Express-News said.   Authorities confirmed approximately 53 migrants died from overcrowded and overheated conditions inside the tractor-trailer.  Temperatures in San Antonio reached a high of 103 degrees on that day amid an ongoing heat wave, and the 53 dead are believed to have succumbed to the heat. The fatalities involved 40 males and 13 females, officials said. The truck had apparently suffered a mechanical failure when it was abandoned, with the driver arrested while trying to flee the scene on foot, as the law enforcement officers informed the New York Times on 28th June 2022.[3]

The truck driver was apprehended by authorities in a nearby field and taken into federal custody, police said. Two other men also were arrested. Authorities said one of the suspects is an American citizen. Authorities said the truck crossed the border in Laredo, 150 miles south of San Antonio. The truck then passed through a border checkpoint on Interstate 35, said Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. It is unclear whether the migrants were in the truck when it apparently cleared the checkpoint.  The spot where the truck was discovered, by a railroad track, is a well-known spot for migrants to be dropped off after being smuggled across the border, said Harry Jimenez, former deputy in charge of the San Antonio ICE office, to The Post.  Texas Governor. Greg Abbott blamed President Joe Biden for the incident.  Greg Abbott placed the blame on the Biden administration’s immigration policies. “These deaths are on Biden,” Abbott tweeted on Monday evening. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”  Hood said first responders found more than a dozen survivors suffering heat stroke and exhaustion. Authorities were still searching for potential other survivors in the area.  The hospitalised survivors, including four children, were hot to the touch and dehydrated, according to first responders.  A representative of the Baptist Health System mentioned that three patients taken to San Antonio’s Baptist Medical Center were later pronounced dead, and another patient died at an area hospital, KSAT reported.  Two patients remained critical at Baptist Medical, the Times reported.  An adolescent boy was reportedly critical at University Hospital, while a 23-year-old woman was in serious condition there, the Times said. There also were two people in critical condition, a 23-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man, at Texas Vista Medical Center, the outlet said.

Two other men and a woman were listed in critical but stable condition at Methodist Metropolitan hospital.  Representative Biggs warns of more migrant deaths at border in summer months: “it’s overrun right now”. Border Patrol officers have been encountering records numbers of migrants trying to cross the southern border, including 239,416 last month and 235,478 the month before that.   President Biden, meanwhile, pledged to crack down on human traffickers in the wake of the tragedy.  “Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry,” Biden said in a statement. Jorge Ventura a reporter, on witnessing surge of illegal immigrants first-hand at southern border, filmed hundreds of migrants running across Arizona border, says border agents “feel like Uber drivers”[4] Ventura, from the Daily Caller, discussed what he has witnessed at the southern border and why migrants are being incentivised to cross into the United States.  Ventura said there’s “massive” gaps throughout the border wall, so migrants are directed by coyotes and smugglers where to cross. The video was recorded as a massive migrant caravan, which at one point swelled up to well over 10,000 migrants as it set off toward the U.S. border from southern Mexico, has now broken up as Mexican officials have offered temporary visas to migrants, although organizers say they will still travel to the U.S. Organizer Luis Villagran told Fox News that about 80% of migrants in the caravan, approximately 9,000, have received a migratory multiple form (FMM). That travel visa allows them to travel freely in Mexico temporarily.[5]  Ventura said from his conversations with migrants that they are not worried about deportation under Title 42 and that they are “here to stay” in the United States. “The Border Patrol in Yuma is extremely frustrated. They say, hey, we basically feel like Uber drivers, we don’t even do any border enforcement. We do border enrolment, what they call it, just picking up migrants to get into processing centers and back and forth,” he told host Steve Doocy.[6]

Migrants walk on the road at the migrant caravan in Huixtla, Chiapas, in Mexico on June 9, 2022. The caravan from Huixtla to Mapastepec restarted with an approximate contingent of 3,000 migrants.
(Photo by Jacob Garcia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (Jacob Garcia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Greg Abbott made an agreement with four Mexican state governors to stop the flow of migrants and those have been a failure as well,” he said, adding “Mexican officials haven’t done anything and are also not addressing the crisis.”[7]

According to Associated Press review of reports of mass migrant deaths, some of the deadliest incidents in the last 22 years, began in England, way back England, on 18th June, 2000, when 58 Chinese immigrants were found dead inside an airless truck in the English port town of Dover. The Dutch truck had transported the immigrants across the English Channel from Belgium.[8]  In USA on 14th May, 2003,19 migrants died inside a sweltering tractor-trailer while they travelled from South Texas to Houston.[9]  In Thailand on 09th April, 2008: 54 Burmese migrants suffocated in the back of an airtight refrigerated truck in the southern city of Ranong. The 10-wheel container truck, usually used for transporting frozen fish, was on its way to the resort island of Phuket. The dead included 37 women and 17 men. Another 21 were hospitalised, and the remaining 46 were arrested by police for entering Thailand illegally.[10]  In Pakistan, on 04th April, 2009, 35 Afghan migrants suffocated inside an abandoned shipping container in southwestern Pakistan. Authorities said that more than 100 people were packed inside the container, which was supposed to be taken to the Iranian border.[11] In Austria, 27th August, 2015, Austrian police discovered an abandoned truck containing the bodies of 71 Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan migrants. Among the suffocated victims were eight children. The truck, found parked along a highway, had crossed into Austria from Hungary.[12]

13 dead bodies were found in a shipping container on 20th February, 2017 in Libya. 56 people survived. Photo credit: Fawsi Abdel-Alli/Ropi Picture Alliance

In Libya, on 20th February, 2017, 13 African migrants suffocated inside a shipping container while being transported between two towns in Libya. According to the local Red Crescent branch, a total of 69 mostly Malian migrants were packed into the container. They had reportedly been trapped in the container for four days.[13] In USA, on 23rd July, 2017, eight migrants were found dead in a sweltering trailer at a San Antonio Walmart parking lot in the midsummer Texas heat. Two others died later in hospitals, the driver was sentenced to life in prison. Authorities described the incident as an migrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.[14]  On 23rd October, 2019, when  39 Vietnamese migrants who had died from suffocation and hyperthermia were found in a truck trailer outside London. Four men were jailed for manslaughter; one of them, a Vietnamese man, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February after being convicted of being the ringleader.[15]

People prepare coffins containing bodies of the victims of human smuggling, in Quetta, Pakistan on 06th April, 2009, as they are being sent to Afghanistan.
Photo credit: Waheed Khan

The Bottom Line is that the population of the world is rising exponentially, especially in developing countries, with limited resources and often accompanied by internal strife as well as civil wars, hence the citizenry is expressing a keen desire to join the global exodus from third countries of origin. Migrant smuggling is a ruthless group of highly profitable and highly organised business. Some smuggling networks, like the one Europol busted in June, transport thousands of migrants to Europe. Europol considered the busted migrant smugglers “highly dangerous.”[16]  According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), migrant smuggling is the “facilitation, for financial or other material gain, of irregular entry into a country where the migrant is not a national or resident.” The main difference between migrant smuggling and human trafficking, according to UNODC, is “financial or material benefit” vs. exploitation of the victim.[17]

The proposed South African as well as global solution solutions in attending to the migrant crises, must be overarched and encompass the following principles:-

  1. We as peace generating humanoids, have to accept that the migrant, refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis and as such the local religious bodies are compelled to initiate discussion to alleviate human suffering, with any practically possible measures. This is achieved as per the ethical and moral code of conduct, as well as striving to uphold the democratic constitution of a particular country, such as South Africa.
  2. All members from different religious organisations must express their opinions transparently on whether the religious bodies should be active in alleviating the suffering of the migrants and refugees or should abstain from doing anything. Perhaps a referendum should be taken at a meeting. If the religious leadership is agreeable, then possible solutions and proposals should be activated, forthwith.
  3. We must note that as South African, we are geographically far removed from the unfolding humanitarian tragedies, in different countries and therefore we must be pragmatic and realistic in what the South African can and cannot execute after reviewing the submitted proposals. South Africa has learnt valuable lessons from the xenophobic crises affecting the entire country, but particularly relevant to KwaZulu-Natal. These collective experiences could be deployed to alleviate the migrant refugee crises, but not at the expense of ignoring the management of the internal xenophobic problem.
  4. South Africa has unequivocally entrenched freedom of speech, religion and more importantly human rights principles which are deeply entrenched in the constitution, which is upheld by various regulatory authorities, in South Africa.
  5. While South Africa has exhibited generalised apathy towards the migrant crisis, nationally, the religious organizations have both expressed serious intent and willingness to do something about the suffering of fellow human beings and this is an important attribute in moving forwards.
  6. The collective religious leadership and citizenry of South Africa can at least reach consensus, in principle, to consider the following, some of which were initially proposed in UK:
      • The Global, religious bodies must make an intense and sustained efforts at senior, inter-religious-government levels, at termination of the War in Ukraine, by negotiating with all available role players and facilitators.
      • Share asylum seekers around Europe and approach the South African government to share a quota in South Africa
      • Raise funds to purchase an island or land to house the refugees and migrants.
      • Ignore the matter, totally, like the former, Australian solution: Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s hardline “stop the boats” policy.
      • Give more: Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations’ aid chief, has urged wealthy countries to contribute.
      • Be like the former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel and help more people. Fly them over to South Africa to stop them risking their lives.
      • Under the Geneva Convention, Europe is duty-bound to protect any “person owing to a well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
      • The Mitchell method: Andrew Mitchell, the former minister for international development, has floated the idea of putting troops on the ground in areas to protect “safe havens”
      • Donate Money
      • A number of charities are on the ground in conflict-ridden areas and trying to help people on the move
      • Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which provides search and rescue boats, and provides crucial help to migrants travelling by sea.
      • Save the Children, which is getting essential provisions to children who need them.
      • Red Cross Europe, which has set up emergency services at key train stations in Europe. Approach Gift of Givers and Rotary Club in South Africa
      • Refugee Action, which helps asylum seekers navigate the system and get support.
      • Volunteer your time
      • By helping refugees in your area when they do come
      • The campaign group Avaaz in UK [18]has set up volunteer groups to allow British residents to help asylum seekers in their local area. From language help, to lobbying to helping people find accommodation, you can offer whatever you can.
      • Make your voice heard
      • Protests, petitions and people power are now needed than ever before.
      • There is this petition aimed at getting government to debate the crisis, or this Save the Children petition, aimed at putting pressure on Europe.
      • Donate other supplies
      • Or from your sofa, you can buy everything from sleeping bags to coats and get them delivered to Greece and Calais
      • Books: send them to The Jungle Library, which has been set up at Calais for those stuck in the “Jungle” for weeks, or even months, at a time. The Big Green Bookshop in north London is taking donations.
      • Musical instruments: if you have any around, Music Against Borders is helping get old instruments to migrants stuck in Calais.
      • Volunteer your home
      • The No Accommodation Network[19], or NACCOM, is an umbrella organisation that has all the details for housing associations, NGOs and shelters, organised by area. . Via the website, and the local organisations listed, you can find out if there are any refugees in your area who need a temporary home.
      • Strengthening and appropriate formalisation of the trans-border documentation systems to ensure that migration is legal and proper statistics and immigration documentation are maintained.
      • This would also obviate corrupt mechanisms being used for Human Trafficking to gain illegal entry into Europe under the guise of refugee migration.
  1. The main thrust of any initiative must be improving conditions in the respective homelands of the migrants, in order to to obviate mass migrations.
  2. The entire migrant assist effort must be a coordinated, global initiative. In this manner, universal peace and harmony can be achieved.


[1] Personal quote by author June 2022





















Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Jul 2022.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Journeys of Desperation: The Sad Endpoints of the Odyssey of Mass Humanoid Migrations in the 21st Century (Part 3), is included. Thank you.

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