A group of African migrants who were rescued in the Sahara Desert in northern Republic of Niger say the agents who promised to take them to Europe abandoned them to die before they were saved. The group said they spent three days without food or water after their smugglers abandoned them en route to Libya.

The 83 migrants were picked up in a remote stretch of the Sahara Desert where hundreds of others have died in recent years, the UN migration agency IOM said.

41 Nigerian women and girls, including twin 4-year-olds, and 42 men from Nigeria, Togo, Mali and Ghana, were found on September 3, 2020, by the IOM’s Search and Rescue team and Niger’s Civil Protection unit. At the time they were found, they were in distress, dehydrated and in need of medical assistance, the IOM said.

One of the men, who gave his name as Denis, said that they had been stranded for three days without food or water.

“We searched for water, but all we found were dirty wells used by livestock,” Denis told the IOM. “People were collapsing left and right. I started crying when I saw the cars approaching, hoping help was coming.”

The rescued migrants have been transferred to a COVID-19 quarantine site where they are receiving food, water and medical care, the IOM said.

The migrants reportedly left Agadez in Niger’s north about three weeks ago, headed for Libya. They traveled on separate pickup trucks to avoid detection, according to the IOM. On September 1, the group was abandoned by their four drivers, who took all their belongings, when they spotted military vehicles ahead.

The Mayor of Dirkou, Boubacar Djaram, who received the rescued migrants, said that this group would probably have died if they had not been discovered.

“The migrants rescued last Thursday, were found in an isolated place far from any form of life,” Djaram said.

Since 2016, more than 1,870 migrants have been rescued through operations in Niger’s desert, among them more than 400 this year alone, the IOM said.

“It is impossible to know how many migrants have died attempting to cross the Sahara. Many bodies are buried during sandstorms, never to be found again,” said Barbara Rijks, the IOM Chief of Mission in Niger. Libya is a major transit point for African and Arab migrants trying to reach Europe.

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