The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Thousands of migrants have been abandoned in the Sahara. This is what their journey looks like.

A truck carrying goods and migrants drives through the Tenere desert region of the south-central Sahara in Niger on June 3. (Jerome Delay/AP)
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They are young and old, men, women and children, coming from places such as Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere in West Africa. And they are trying to reach Europe.

Instead, these migrants, who cross through Algeria, are increasingly finding themselves stuck in the Sahara Desert, fending for their lives in extreme heat, far from the destinations they had in mind when they embarked on their dangerous journeys.

According to an Associated Press report this week, in the past 14 months, Algeria has expelled or denied entry to more than 13,000 migrants, pushing them south into the Sahara Desert in Niger and away from Europe. In the Sahara, temperatures reach well over 100 degrees, and outposts are few and far between. Migrants are often dehydrated, hungry, sick and lost. Most interviewed by the AP recall watching others succumb to the difficult conditions. It's tough for aid organizations to count how many migrants have died in the desert, where corpses lie in the sun until they are swallowed by sand.

Last year, the International Organization for Migration estimated that for every migrant who died in the Mediterranean, about two were dying in the Sahara. (In 2017, the IOM recorded 3,116 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. The same year, the organization recorded 412 migrants dying as they attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.)

The AP reported that Algeria is dropping migrants along the border with Niger and then forcing them across, sometimes at gunpoint. Migrants are finding it increasingly difficult to cross through North Africa because of European efforts to halt mass migration from the continent's northern shores.

The IOM began to count the number of people crossing on foot from Algeria's southern border into Niger in May 2017, when it tallied 135 individuals. Those numbers soon skyrocketed. In April 2018 alone, the IOM tallied 2,888 who were dropped at the same crossing.

Some then turn around and try again. Here is a glimpse into what their journey through the desert looks like.

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