Dozens of migrants from Niger, most of them women and children, died of thirst in the Sahara earlier this month after their vehicle broke down, officials said on Monday.
One survivor recalled how a man watched his wife and nine children die, and said the migrants, who were headed for Algeria, had been packed “like cattle” into overcrowded vehicles.
“Thirst was the main cause of the deaths of our wives and children,” Sadafiou told the Sahara FM radio station, adding that “hunger and the traveling conditions also took their toll.”
Agadez Mayor Rhissa Feltou said that two vehicles were carrying at least 60 migrants when one broke down, and they were all left behind in the desert while the remaining vehicle was driven off.
“About 40 Nigeriens, including numerous children and women, who were attempting to emigrate to Algeria, died of thirst in mid-October,” he said. “Many others have been reported missing since their vehicle broke down in the desert.”
Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that at least 30,000 economic migrants passed through Agadez between March and August.
The army found the bodies of two women and three adolescents, a paramilitary policeman said.
No other bodies have so far turned up.
“Travelers told us that they saw and counted up to 35 bodies, mostly those of women and children, by the road,” said Abdourahmane Maouli, the mayor of the northern uranium mining town of Arlit.
According to Feltou, two vehicles left Arlit with at least 60 passengers “around Oct. 15,” heading for Tamanrassett, an Algerian town in the heart of the Sahara.
When one vehicle broke down, the other drove on empty, leaving the passengers behind in a plan to find spare parts and bring them back for repairs, the mayor of Agadez said.
The migrants, short of water, dispersed in small groups in search of an oasis, Feltou said.
After days of walking, five survivors reached Arlit and alerted the army, “who arrived too late at the scene.”
A survivor told Niger’s bimonthly Air Info that 82 people had perished, in a further conflicting report on the death toll.