92 Migrants Die In Sahara Desert After Vehicle Breakdowns

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Written by Dana Sanchez

The bodies of 92 migrants – mostly women and children – have been found in Niger’s Sahara Desert, victims of dehydration as they passed through the arid region in search of a better life in Algeria, CNN reports.

After their vehicles broke down, the migrants slowly died of thirst, Niger security forces told CNN today.

The travelers were hoping to find a better life in Algeria, trying to escape extreme poverty and economic hardships in Niger, said Azaoua Mahaman of Synergie, a non-governmental organization.

This is just one in a series of tragedies that beset migrants trying to escape poverty in sub-Saharan Africa for opportunities in North Africa and beyond, the report said.

Others who survived the journey drowned as they tried to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats, with sights set on Europe.

Niger has become something of a conduit for migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

Its 16 million people are among the world’s fastest-growing populations, but the large, landlocked country is prone to political instability and natural disasters, according to the World Bank.

Droughts, floods and locusts contribute to chronic food insecurity and the poverty rate is one of the highest in the world.

The World Bank puts the annual per-capita income at just $360, and the country lies second from bottom in the U.N.’s Human Development Index. Less than 30 percent of adults are literate, and life expectancy is 57.5 years.

Faced with these tough conditions, many decide to leave.

This has turned Niger’s desert north into a major transit area for migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration, and many human smugglers operate there.

Algeria and Libya are the final destinations for some travelers, while others seek to reach Europe, said Laura Lungarotti, migrant assistance regional specialist in the IOM’s West and central Africa office in Senegal. Most are from Niger, although others also come from Central and Western Africa.

Once they embark on their journeys, they face “extremely dry and difficult conditions,” she said. Those who get stranded in the desert face a challenge to survive.

Part of the problem is that many would-be migrants are stopped by Algerian or Libyan authorities and sent back over the border into Niger’s desert, Lungarotti said.

Some of those are transported directly to two transit centers run by the IOM – outposts in the desert where the migrants can receive food, water and first aid. Others manage to make their own way there.

Despite the danger, the number of migrants has increased since the beginning of this year, Lungarotti said.

In the past 10 months, more than 15,000 from Niger and 1,300 from other countries have reached the two transit centers – one in Arlit, closer to Algeria, and the other in Dirkou, nearer to the Libyan border.

Some who’ve made their way back from Libya said they were held in detention where they suffered harsh treatment, Lungarotti said.

Before Libya’s revolution two years ago, many migrants from Niger worked in its construction and agricultural sectors. Instability forced many out.

Recent conflict in Northern Mali sent about 60,000 refugees over the border into Niger, according to the European Community Humanitarian Office, adding to the pressure on its resources.