Dozens of migrants abandoned in northern Niger desert

Image source: Joe Penney/Reuters

TMP – 12/07/2017

At least 51 migrants are presumed dead in northern Niger’s Sahara Desert after smugglers abandoned them, according to local officials.

Fatoumi Boudou, the prefect of Niger’s northern region of Bilma said: “The traffickers abandoned them in the middle of the desert without food or water.”

Twenty-four survivors from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast were found wandering the desert after being abandoned by smugglers. They were part of a group of at least 75 people who started the journey to Libya in three cars.

The 24 survivors were taken to Seguedine, although one of them died on arrival. It was not clear how long they had been walking the deserts of central Niger. Authorities are still searching for bodies of the other 51 migrants, although this has been hampered by sand storms.

Boudou said: “Searching across a 65km radius had yielded only one dead body with the identity card of a Nigerian student.”

The 750 km trip from the remote Niger town of Agadez to the Libyan border takes at least three days of almost continuous travelling in the scorching Sahara Desert.

“Saving lives in the desert is becoming more urgent than ever. Since the beginning of the year we have received frequent calls to rescue victims who embark on this route‎,” said Giuseppe Loprete, Niger IOM Chief of Mission.

A 22-year-old woman was the only female among the survivors. “She left Nigeria in early April hoping for a better future in Europe,” Loprete said.

The Nigerian woman said: “We were in the desert for 10 days. After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left with all of our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours, but he never did,” she added.

When 44 of the migrants died within the two days, the survivors decided to start walking and look for help.

In May 2015, the Niger government  adopted a law banning the trafficking of migrants and refugees with those found guilty facing a prison sentence of up to 30 years, and fines of up to $51,000.