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Thousands of African Migrants Die Crossing Sahara Desert

FILE - Nigeriens and third-country migrants head towards Libya from Agadez, Niger, June 4, 2018.

New records by the International Organization for Migration find more than 6,600 Africans have died over the past five years, most while crossing the Sahara desert toward Europe. However, the study notes these numbers are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

This year alone, hundreds of eye-witness accounts have confirmed nearly 1,400 migrant deaths on the African continent. But researchers say these numbers represent only a tiny fraction of the overall number of deaths of people on the move in Africa.

The International Organization for Migration reports most of the recorded deaths have occurred in the Sahara Desert, northern Niger, southern Libya, and northern Sudan. It says the migrants use these routes to reach Libya, the gateway to Europe and a hoped-for better life.

IOM spokesman, Joel Millman, says the migratory routes are used by smugglers and traffickers who take advantage of the African migrants they encounter. He says the main causes of recorded migrant deaths in Africa indicate that many are preventable.

“Starvation, dehydration, physical abuse, sickness and lack of access to medicines are causes of death frequently cited by the migrants who reported deaths on routes within Africa," he said. "Involvement with human smugglers and traffickers in human beings can put people in extremely risky situations in which they have little agency to protect themselves, let alone fellow travelers they see being abused.”

While most of the deaths identified are young men, Millman tells VOA hundreds of women and children also are among the victims. He says the survey, which deals with the deaths of migrants, reveals that little support is given to those who have survived the terrible journey.

He says people who have seen their fellow travelers die are severely distressed. He says they experience significant psychosocial stress but receive little help in recovering from the traumatic events.