The bodies of dozens of refugees, including women and children, have been found in Niger’s Sahara Desert, where they were apparently abandoned by smugglers en route to Libya and eventually Europe.
Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Agadez, a remote town on the edge of the Sahara, confirmed on Thursday that at least 44 refugees had lost their lives in the desert of northern Niger.
“The number of migrants who died in the desert is 44 for now,” media outlets quoted the mayor as saying.
A security source told media outlets that “the sub-Saharan migrants, including babies and women, died of thirst because their vehicle broke down”.
The Red Cross has dispatched a team to the site “to gather information” on the circumstances.
In early May, eight Nigerien refugees, five of them children, were found dead in the desert while on their way to Algeria.
Also in May, soldiers on patrol in northern Niger rescued around 40 refugees from various West African countries. The group included citizens of the Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal and Niger. The refugees were hoping to reach the Libyan coast so they could cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
The refugees are frequently abandoned in the desert by people-smugglers while travelling to Libya.
Libya used to play host to the majority of the refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa on their way to Europe, but since the North African country plunged into political chaos in 2011, Algeria has become the new route.
In recent months, thousands of illegal migrants and refugees have arrived in Algeria on their way to Europe, mostly from neighboring Mali and Niger.
Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. Many blame major European powers for the exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, displacing the locals.
By Africafrique and agencies