Tragedy in remote north-eastern Niger highlights dangers migrants face when crossing the Sahara

The death of 44 people in remote north-eastern Niger is a horrific reminder of the dangers migrants face at all points of their journeys from West and Central Africa to the shores of Europe.

The migrants are believed to have died from thirst when the truck carrying them either broke down or was abandoned about 200 kms from the town of Dirkou, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Temperatures in the region can climb as high as 43 degrees Celcius in May.

The desert is just as dangerous as the sea,rdquo; said Lawal Taher, the President of the Bilma Branch of the Niger Red Cross. Both are full of people who perish and disappear. Tragedies like these happen all the time. It is heart-breaking, but people want to move. They want a better life.

Red Cross volunteers support a transit centre for migrants in Dirkou which is on the main migration route that leads to Libya.

According to Mr Taher, the Red Cross has seen a rise in the number of people making the journey in recent years, as well as a steady increase in the dangers that migrants face, including attacks from armed groups and bandits, and exploitation and abuse by traffickers.

While the plight and deprivations that migrants face in Libya and crossing the Mediterranean are relatively well known, the challenges they face in the Sahara are less well recognized. However, they are no less deadly.

A report released by the British Red Cross in late 2016 documented some of the dangers that migrants face as they journey from West Africa to the southern shores of the Mediterranean:

Before they even reach the Mediterranean, however, many people have traversed vast deserts, forded rivers and crossed through territory controlled by militias, armed groups or subject to lawlessnessrdquo; it said. Survivors tell of people falling off trucks and being left to die, of sickness and wounds � including gunshot wounds � left untreated, and of loss of life from hunger and thirst.rdquo;

Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).