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Migrants Stranded in Mauritania Sent Home

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Organization for Migration is returning home a group of 30 Indian and Bangladeshi migrants left stranded in the baking Mauritanian desert by smugglers. IOM says the migrants were left with little water, no food or identification papers several months ago.

The group, which consists of 22 Indians and eight Bangladeshis, are expected to arrive in Delhi, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh on Saturday. From there, staff working for the International Organization for Migration will arrange the final leg of their journey home.

The migrants had paid smugglers to take them to Europe. But, they were abandoned in the Mauritanian desert when they could not come up with extra money demanded by the smugglers.

Spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, Jemini Pandya, says the men went through a horrific ordeal.

"The Indian migrants told us that they had been left with half a gallon of water between the group of 22 and that this was obviously completely insufficient for the number of people and the water ran out extremely quickly and they had to survive by drinking their own urine," she said. "And, that had become so desperate that in the end they just lay down in the desert thinking they were going to die. Luckily for them, after about five days, they were found by a patrol and rescued."

Since December, Pandya says the men have been living in difficult conditions in the desert town of Zouerate with irregular and little water supply. She says they have survived largely by taking on any work they could find, such as doing laundry or cleaning.

The 30 migrants had been part of a much larger group of about 72 people that included Pakistanis. Pandya says the 42 other migrants in the group decided not to go home, but to try again with smugglers to get to Europe. She says she does not know whether any of the migrants actually got to Europe. But, she says some of the men apparently have reached a place called Camp Spain. This is where migrants congregate before separating to go to their final destinations in other European countries.

"It is interesting to say that the people in the group that we are helping, they have mobile phones," she said. "And, while we were there with them, they were constantly getting calls from other migrants to say that some of them actually had reached Camp Spain. Just phoning to say 'Hi, I have got there' - as well as constantly receiving phone calls from smugglers, harassing them to continue the journey."

IOM reports every year, thousands of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia try to reach the northern shores of the Mediterranean via the Maghreb by using smuggling networks.

Since late 2004, IOM has assisted 290 Indians and Bangladeshi migrants who were left abandoned in the deserts of North Africa to return home voluntarily.

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