The 41 females from Nigeria, including twin four-year-olds, and 42 males from Nigeria, Togo, Mali and Ghana were in distress, dehydrated and in need of medical assistance when they were found last week, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday. It works with the General Directorate for Civil Protection to carry out these searches and rescues.
One of the men, a 25-year-old whose identity was given by the agency as Dennis, said they had been stranded for three days without food or water.
“We searched for water, but all we found were dirty wells used by livestock,” he told IOM. “People were collapsing left and right. I started crying when I saw the cars approaching, hoping help was coming.”
The group had left Agadez, a common transit town in Niger’s north, two weeks ago on separate utes to avoid detection, the agency said. They were headed for Libya, and their smugglers made a stop on September 1 about 230 kilometres north of the Sahara crossroad of Dirkou, some of those rescued said. Vehicles often break down in the desert, where many smugglers abandon their passengers.
The mayor of Dirkou, Boubacar Djaram, said the group would likely have perished, like so many others who haven’t been found.
“The migrants rescued last Thursday were found in an isolated place far from any form of life,” he said. The Agadez region spans more than 700,000 square kilometres.
The group has been transferred to a COVID-19 confinement site where they are receiving food, water and medical care, the IOM said.
Since 2016, more than 1870 migrants have been rescued through operations in Niger’s desert, among them more than 400 this year alone, the UN agency said.
“It is impossible to know how many migrants have died attempting to cross the Sahara. Many bodies are buried during sandstorms, never to be found again,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM’s chief of mission in Niger.
Libya is a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.