UN agency saves migrants stranded in Sahara Desert


The United Nations migration agency in Niger has saved more than 600 lives since April with a new search and rescue operation targeting migrants stranded in Sahara Desert, but there are 52 who are known not to have survived.

“We are enhancing capacity to assist vulnerable migrants stranded in Northern Agadez, towards the Niger-Libya border,” said Giuseppe Loprete, Niger Chief of Mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“Saving lives in the desert is becoming more urgent than ever. Since the beginning of the year we have received frequent calls to rescue victims who embark on this route?,” he said.

A 22-year-old woman was the only female among the survivors of a May 28 rescue mission. She left Nigeria in early April hoping for a better future in Europe. There were 50 migrants on the pick-up truck when it left Agadez for Libya, but only six are still alive.
“We were in the desert for ten days. After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left with all our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours, but he never did,” she recalled.

During the next two days, 44 of the migrants died. This persuaded the six left to start walking to look for help. “We had to drink our own pee to survive,” she said.

On June 9, another 92 migrants were rescued by an IOM search and rescue operation. There were 30 women and children in the group.

More recently, 24 migrants were taken to Seguedine, where one died on arrival. Among the survivors are migrants from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. It was not clear how long they had been walking the deserts of central Niger. They had been in a group of 75 migrants in three different cars, eventually abandoned by smugglers during the journey north.

IOM recorded 52 deaths since launching the “Migrants Rescue and Assistance in Agadez Region” (MIRAA) project in April. The project will last for 12 months and aims to ensure protection of migrants in hard-to-reach areas while also strengthening management of migration by the Niger government.

MIRAA is complementary to the larger initiative “Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism” (MRRM), which aims to bring together in a single mechanism a range of services and assistance for migrants, including assisted voluntary return to their countries of origin and reintegration on return.