Niger aims to prevent Sahara deaths with travel curb

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Media caption,

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy says some of the bodies were found just 5km from a well

A minister in Niger says women and children may be banned from travelling north out of the country.

"I will be proposing in our next cabinet meeting to ban women and children from travelling to the north from Arlit," Foreign Minister Bazoum Mohammed told the BBC.

He was speaking after the bodies of 92 migrants who had died of thirst were found in the Sahara.

Niger lies on a major migrant route between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

But among those who make it across the desert, many end up working in North African countries.

"What we hear from our ambassador in Algeria and our consular office in Tamanrasset is that these people come from... districts in Niger and they go to Algeria for begging on the streets," Mr Mohammed said.

"Most of these people are being driven by poverty into this difficult situation, but as far as we're concerned this is not a solution," he added.

Those found earlier this week are thought to be migrant workers and their families. Most of them were women and children.

Mr Mohammed said a ban would "stop this kind of tragedy". But it is not clear how it would be enforced over the country's porous northern borders.

The bodies of the migrants were found by rescue workers after the migrants' vehicles broke down as they tried to cross the Sahara.

Rescue worker Almoustapha Alhacen told the BBC the corpses were in a severe state of decomposition and had been partly eaten, probably by jackals.

"There was a well about 25km (16 miles) away from where the truck broke down," Mr Alhacen said.

"They were trying to reach the well, but unfortunately they couldn't make it. So as we followed the route, we kept finding the bodies in groups," he added.

Image caption,
Most of the bodies found were those of women and children

'It was horrible'

According to Mr Alhacen, one of the vehicles that the migrants were travelling in broke down some time after they left Arlit at the end of September or beginning of October.

Security officials said the second vehicle broke down as it was on its way back to Arlit to get spare parts.

It appears that some of the group set out on foot, including up to 10 people who made it back to Arlit and raised the alarm, he said.

Mr Alhacen told the BBC's Hausa service the bodies of 52 children, 33 women and seven men had been found and been given Muslim burials, Mr Alhacen said.

He said that it was most likely that the people were from Niger, judging by their dress and how the women's hair was braided.

Korans and tablets used by children at madrassas [Islamic school] were found amongst the belongings, said Mr Alhacen.

"The corpses were decomposed; it was horrible," Mr Alhacen said.

''What was shocking was that they were small. There was a dead woman holding her baby," he added.

Given that so many of those found were teenagers, Mr Alhacen said it was possible they were on their way to low-paid jobs in neighbouring Algeria.

About 80,000 migrants cross the Sahara desert through Niger every year, according to John Ging, director of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"They are basically economic migrants. They are in search of work. They are so impoverished that they have to make these hazardous journeys," he told the BBC's Newsday programme.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and frequently suffers from drought and food crises.

Migration routes across the Sahara desert

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