DAKAR, Senegal – More than 90 West African migrants on their way to Libya have been rescued after being abandoned in the scorching Sahara Desert in Niger, the International Organization for Migration said Wednesday.
Officials in Niger's Northern Agadez informed the IOM that 25 migrants had been stranded about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the town of Dirkou where the migration organization has a camp, said IOM's Niger head of mission Giuseppe Loprete.
"We didn't find those migrants but we found another group of 18 stranded migrants near a water point. We then found another 74 on our way back, so a total of 92," said Loprete of the rescue a few days ago. The majority of the migrants were from Nigeria, while others came from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Senegal, he said. At least 30 women were among them, some carrying babies.
One of the rescued migrants has since died, he said.
The organization says it has saved more than 600 migrants on similar missions in the Sahara Desert since April 2016.
"This is unfortunately a typical story for them," and migrants are often treated badly, he said. They are brought to the middle of the Sahara and often asked for more money by drivers, and if they don't have it they are left behind, he said. Or smugglers will tell them to stay in place so they can check the terrain, only to leave them stranded.
It is impossible to know how many migrants are lost in the desert with so many making their way north. Bodies may not be discovered for weeks, and generally those that are found are buried in the desert or left where they are.
"When they're lucky, someone passing by or a military patrolling or IOM teams will find them if they're not too far from the normal route," he said.
At least 44 migrants, including babies, who had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down in the Sahara Desert were found weeks ago after six survivors made their way to the Dirkou center and alerted authorities.
Niger is a major route for West African migrants making their way toward Europe. Some 300,000 migrants passed through the vast West African nation in 2016 alone, according to IOM.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou had made a plea to the leaders of G-7 industrialized nations to address the migration crisis during a meeting in Taormina, Sicily at the end of May. Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and has been strained by the migration burden. The IOM says most of the migrant traffic is not refugee-related.