13 October 2017
By Chidiebere Ejike
The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, an agency in the United Nation, UN, Thursday, warned that West African migrants trying to reach Europe are dying in greater numbers in the Sahara than in the Mediterranean.
According to the UN agency, so far this year, 2,569 migrant deaths have been recorded in the central Mediterranean, while more than 107,000 migrants, mainly West Africans, have reached Italy.
The UN IOM director for West and Central Africa, Richard Danziger, told a news conference in Geneva that the agency is yet to determine the estimated number of deaths in the desert.
He said, “One thing we still don’t have is any estimate of number of deaths in the desert. We assume, and I think we have said before, that it has to be at least double those who die in the Mediterranean. We really have no evidence of that, it’s just an assumption. We just don’t know.”
Danziger said that in Niger, a main transit route, people smugglers were increasingly scared of the authorities, which might make them more prone to abandon migrants in the desert.
He noted that an alternative was through northern Mali, a region beset by conflicts between rival groups adding that the route considered the safest was along the western coast of Africa, via Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco to the Strait of Gibraltar, and migrant flows there had increased.
Also, Giuseppe Loprete, the IOM’s Niger mission chief, said many migrants had told of deaths in the desert, and some said the smugglers believed that if they drove fast through minefields they would be safe.
He said migrant numbers heading through Niger have fallen dramatically after strong action by the government to close migrant “ghettoes” and arrest traffickers.
Niger had two routes to Libya: one closer to Chad that was used to smuggle migrants and one closer to the Algerian border that was far more dangerous and was used by extremist groups and for drugs and gun-running.