A group of ten migrants was found dead in Niger, not far from the Libyan border, confirmed the Nigerian military. Authorities are investigating the cause of death but thirst is one supposition.
Late on Thursday (June 30), Niger’s Defense Ministry confirmed that one of its military patrols had found "ten lifeless bodies of clandestine migrants...summarily buried in graves," reported the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).
The bodies of the ten migrants were found about 30 kilometers from the city of Dirkou in Niger, not far from the Libyan border. The town is situated in the Sahara desert in the Agadez region of Niger. Pictures on Google maps show a small oasis and palm trees in the middle of a lot of sand.
The town of Dirkou is one of the crossing points for migrants heading towards Libya, as well as trafficked weapons and drugs from sub-Saharan Africa towards Libya and Europe. According to AFP, it is also home to gold mining sites, so workers travel to the town in the hope of finding work in the mines.
Smugglers operate out of the Niger city of Agadez, where migrants hoping to travel to Libya and then Europe, arrive before joining a convoy north.
The ministry said authorities were investigating the causes of death, but AFP reported that a parliamentarian from the Agadez region speculated that it was "very possible" that they had been abandoned by a smuggler.
According to AFP, the authorities in Agadez "say it is common for vehicles transporting migrants to break down in the desert, or even for smugglers to lose their way, or abandon passengers for fear of being caught. Some migrants die of dehydration."
In 2015, Niger adopted a law making migrant smuggling a crime. It carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. However, according to a Nigerien security source who spoke to AFP, "the measure had only pushed smugglers to use 'new more dangerous routes.'"
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, June 29, authorities in Libya reported finding 20 people who had died of thirst in Libya, near the Chadian border. The online portal Africa News reported that the vehicle of this group of people had broken down.
The authorities who recovered the body said that the vehicle had journeyed into Libya from neighboring Chad and was about 120 kilometers into Libya when it broke down. According to Africa News, temperatures regularly climb above 40 degrees Celsius in the summer.
The non-governmental organization (NGO) Oxfam has published testimonies on its website about the dangers of trying to cross the Niger desert towards Libya. In 2015, the charity says, between 80,000 and 150,000 people are thought to have crossed the Niger desert to reach Libya, and then Europe.
Many of those people came from West African countries like Cameroon, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea. Many migrants wait for several months in Agadez before gathering enough money to pay to cross into Libya.
Oxfam says that once migrants arrive in Agadez, often "they must remain hidden, locked in houses without bathrooms or access to drinking water." One man, waiting to cross when Oxfam interviewed him, said he had spent his last lot of money on a water can to cross the desert. The container, said Oxfam, is "a recycled plastic container originally used for cooking palm oil, covered with sackcloth to maintain the water temperature."
Before setting off on his trip, Yaya, who is originally from Casamance in Senegal, told Oxfam that "sometimes I’m afraid of what could happen." However, although he said he knew there would be difficulties ahead, he thought he had the "strength to get through it. There is no other choice. I know that the trip is dangerous: the desert, and then the sea, but I know how to swim."