GENEVA - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the discovery of 34 dead migrants in the Sahara this week brings the number of known migrant deaths on the African continent this year to 471.
IOM believes these deaths may be only a fraction of the true number of migrant fatalities across North Africa.
The Geneva-based organization reports at least 120,000 migrants have passed through Niger this year on their way to Europe. Yet, the only deaths recorded by IOM in Niger are the 34 victims who died after being abandoned by their smuggler this week.
The agency said many more people have died from exposure, starvation or dehydration in the vast Sahara Desert.
It said there also is an alarming trend of violent deaths for migrants in North Africa. IOM spokesman Joel Millman told VOA that sexual attacks have been responsible for dozens of deaths.
“This indicates terrible abuse of people en route, whether this is just armed men taking advantage of these people or it is part of sex trafficking," he said. "I do not really have the details of that. We do know of literally hundreds of women from Nigeria have been forced into prostitution in Libya after being told they did not have enough money to make the trip up from Nigeria to the coast.”
Millman said smugglers often mislead people by telling them the border is only five kilometers away. After taking their money, they leave the migrants to wander, often with fatal consequences.
“We also hear about vehicles that run out of gas or become disabled in the high temperatures," he said. "While waiting for relief, people die of dehydration. That is very common on that route.”
IOM began its Missing Migrants Project nearly 18 months ago. In that time, it has recorded deaths for 678 migrants traveling in Africa, with 70 of those deaths occurring just in the past two weeks.