Bodies of 34 migrants, including 20 children who were abandoned by people smugglers while trying to reach neighbouring Algeria were found in the Niger desert last week, authorities said Wednesday, June 15.
“Thirty-four people, including five men, nine women and 20 children died trying to cross the desert,” Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement.”They probably died of thirst, as is often the case, and they were found near Assamaka,” a security source said, referring to a border post between Niger and Algeria.
“The migrants were abandoned by people smugglers,” the statement added, and only two of the bodies have so far been identified – a man and a 26-year-old woman both from Niger.
Two unidentified Europe-bound Nigerians were among the dead. The nationalities of other victims are yet to be revealed.
Temperatures in the desolate region can reach a brutal 42 degrees Celsius, with blinding sandstorms tearing across the desert. The hostile conditions mean that only a fraction of those who die trying to cross the area are ever found.
Thousands of illegal migrants have arrived in Algeria in recent years, mostly from neighbouring Mali and Niger.
Libya used to play host to the majority of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, but since that country descended into chaos following the ousting of Moamer Kadhafi, Algeria has become the main destination for the region’s migrants.
Many transit through Algeria headed for Europe, but more than 7,000 migrants from Niger, mostly women and children, were returned to their home country in 2015 as part of an agreement between the two countries’ governments.
Europe has recently turned its attention to trying to curb the number of illegal arrivals from Africa, after a deal with Ankara in March slashed the number of people trying to cross from Turkey.