34 refugees die of thirst in Niger desert

Smugglers abandon 34 refugees including 20 children in Niger desert close to Assamaka.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Pickup trucks loaded with West African migrants drive out of the city of Agadez, northern Niger, headed for Libya.

Thirty four refugees, including 20 children, were found dead in the Niger desert last week after they were abandoned by smugglers, authorities have confirmed on Wednesday.  

The refugees were trying to reach Algeria.

According to the BBC, Nigerien Interior Minister Bazoum Mohammed said that the refugees appeared to have died of thirst.

"Thirty-four people, including five men, nine women and 20 children died trying to cross the desert," he said.

A security official said that all the bodies were found near the town of Assamaka, about 760 km north-east of the capital Niamey.

"[The migrants] were abandoned by people smugglers," Niger's Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Mohammed said two of the victims were Nigerian but the nationalities of the other refugees are still not known.

Algeria is a main destination for refugees where in recent years thousands of people arrived from Mali and Niger.

The International Organization for Migration has said that 120,000 people crossed through Agadez last year.

Most of the refugees are trying to reach Algeria with the aim of getting to Europe.

In 2015 more than 7,000 refugees from Niger were turned back as part of a joint agreement between the two governments.

Europe has been trying to control the refugee influx after reaching a deal with Turkey in March.

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 2,814 people have drowned while trying to get to Europe since January.

The European Commission seeks to renegotiate deals with African countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to be able turn people back from these countries easily, as it doesn't see them as qualifying for refugee status.

A "blue card" system might also be adopted to help make it easier for skilled migrants to enter Europe legally.

The reasoning is to dissuade people from using smugglers to get them into Europe.

TRTWorld and agencies