North Africa Print

Migrant crisis: in the 45C heat, dead are buried in the sand and the living carry on

Death in the Sahara desert

The TimesThose who survived the punishing journey through the Sahara Desert were forced to dig shallow graves for the four that did not make it.

Thirty-six migrants and refugees from across sub-Saharan Africa had been stuffed into the back of a Toyota Hilux by a gang smuggling them to Libya.

In the searing heat several had died along the way. The traffickers did not want to carry the corpses with them and made the migrants bury them.

“They died because they wouldn’t allow us water to drink and it was so hot we couldn’t breathe,” said Ali Joseph, 19, from Ghana, who crossed into Libya last summer. The smugglers had thrown away water as the jerrycans took up room.

“We had to leave [the bodies] by the side of the desert track, dig a shallow grave and just go.” The car was so overloaded with people it repeatedly broke down. The migrants were forced to push in 45C. “We all thought we were going to die. It was too much for some,” Mr Joseph said.

Testimony like this, repeated countless times in conversations with migrants in Tripoli’s crammed detention centres, supports the claims of aid groups that the desert is just as deadly as the Mediterranean for those trekking to Europe.

Mr Joseph had come along the well-trodden path from Agadez, the city in Niger that is one of the last stops for thousands of west Africans before they plunge into the desert. His journey took him to Qatrun, a smuggling hub in southwest Libya, one of several desert routes into the country.

Migrants pay smugglers upwards of £300 to make the journey, which lasts several days. Mr Joseph said that anyone who was sick, injured or deemed to be a “troublemaker” by the brutal traffickers would be discarded in the desert. Those who died were also dumped. Sometimes people were shot.

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