At around 9 a.m. on Friday last week, commercial truck driver Martin Ndunda parked his truck in the Daraja Mbili market and drove to his favorite bar.
Daraja Mbili is a developing commercial center between Masimba and Kiboko, along the Mombasa – Nairobi highway.
Witnesses said Ndunda had a good time in the downtown bar – popular with truck drivers. Drinks are reasonably priced and the food is plentiful too.
And the police later told the court that 60 foreign immigrants were locked in Ndunda’s truck while he was enjoying himself. There were reports that the foreigners suffocated before the outbreak. That was six hours after Ndunda parked the truck.
“We saw many men come out of an opening in the tarpaulin. They jumped out and disappeared into the nearby bush. They looked suspicious and tired. We suspected they were foreigners, ”Francisca Kyengo, a trader in the Daraja Mbili market, told The Standard.
Ndunda had already delivered cement to Mombasa and was driving back to Nairobi.
Local residents persecuted and arrested the immigrants. Witnesses said they feared the strangers were terrorists.
“Everyone was scared, but some brave men caught up with them and brought them to the market. They didn’t speak English or a local language. Out of compassion, we served them something to eat and water to recharge,” said Kyengo.
At that time, a report had been received at the Kiboko Police Station. The officers arrived shortly afterwards and arrested the suspects.
“With the help of villagers and traders, the police arrested 52 men who turned out to be Ethiopians. Eight more villages were arrested the following day, Saturday, ”said Joseph Ole Napeiyan, Makueni County Police Commander.
He said police have stepped up their operations along the highway fearing it could be used to trade Ethiopians fleeing conflict in troubled Tigray region. Problems in the Tigray region began in November 2020 when federal forces engaged the armed forces of the northern regional government in a battle. Thousands of people were killed and others displaced.
Napeiyan said the Ethiopians had been tested for Covid-19 at the Makindu Subdistrict hospital.
Ndunda was tried in Makindu Law Court the same day, where he was charged with involvement in human trafficking. However, he denied the charges before Chief Judge Jared Makori and was released on a Sh500,000 loan.
However, he failed to secure the loan and is being held in the Makueni GK Detention Center.
The foreigners were also tried and charged with staying illegally in the country.
However, due to a language barrier, they did not accept a plea – they speak neither English nor Kiswahili. Makori instructed that they will plead the charges on Wednesday after the court secured an interpreter.