Authorities in Niger say 34 people, including 20 children, have died while attempting to cross the Sahara Desert in pursuit of a better life.

Niger's government said in a statement Thursday it believed the victims had been trying to reach Europe. They were found dead several days ago near the border with Algeria.

Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum has vowed to pursue stiff penalties for the traffickers who demand high prices to transport people from sub-Saharan African to Algeria and beyond.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries, and many here attempt to reach North Africa and Europe in search of work. The dangerous desert voyage has claimed an untold number of lives, particularly when smugglers abandon trucks or fail to bring sufficient water.