Malawi’s government has vowed to act after the discovery of a mass grave where the bodies of 25 immigrants thought to be Ethiopians were found.
The bodies were exhumed in a Mzimba district forest after young boys reportedly detected a foul smell.
The next day four more bodies were found 5 km (3 miles) from the grave.
“It is a sorry state,” Homeland Security Minister Jean Sendeza told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.”It is a pathetic situation,” she said.
“As a government we are really condemning this kind of activity. It’s not right, it’s not good”.
She stressed that the police was investigating and that those involved would be caught. A post-mortem will be undertaken to establish the causes of death.
A group of 72 suspected migrants from Ethiopia were arrested after police were tipped off about their presence in another government forest reserve.
Ten Malawians were also arrested on suspicion of being part of a syndicate involved in trafficking the Ethiopians. They have not yet appeared in court.
The government was “intensifying controls” on roads and borders to stop suspected human traffickers, especially in the north other country, Ms Sendenza added. Many of the traffickers come from the Horn of Africa, she said.
Civil society organisations in Malawi are also calling on authorities to conduct a swift and thorough forensic investigation.
The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiative (CDEDI) have separately said the discovery of the dead bodies showed there was a rapidly escalating illegal migration and human trafficking crisis in the country which needed immediate and decisive action.
CDEDI head Sylvester Namiwa told the BBC all Malawians were disheartened by the news and the least authorities could do is let professional bodies conduct thorough investigations and ensure perpetrators of human trafficking were brought to justice.
His call was echoed by CHRR head Micheal Kaiyatsa who demanded “justice for the victims”.
Malawi is grappling with the problem of human trafficking in which organised syndicates traffic men, women and children from East African countries including Ethiopia and Somalia. From Malawi they are further trafficked to South Africa, Europe and the United States.
Syndicates are thought to involve influential Malawians. In 2020, the Malawi High Court sentenced former Home Affairs Minister Uladi Mussa and an immigration officer to five years imprisonment for helping non-Malawians obtain Malawi passports.