In the desert of Niger, sometimes soldiers on rescue missions find the lifeless bodies of people who hoped to migrate north. DR
In the desert of Niger, sometimes soldiers on rescue missions find the lifeless bodies of people who hoped to migrate north. DR

Many tragedies occur when migrants seek to cross the desert between the city of Agadez, in Niger, and the Libyan border. While on a rescue mission with the IOM, Mohamed Aghali* came across a body in the middle of the desert. He told his story to InfoMigrants.

"It was in the middle of summer, the time of year when the heat is overpowering. I was with people from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). We stopped for the night in a place known as "the wells of hope”, where there is a big hangar. It’s halfway between Agadez and Dirkou.

In the morning, we got back on the road. We had traveled about 20 kilometers when we saw two silhouettes in the distance - two men. One was walking slightly ahead of the other. They seemed exhausted. They were staggering more than walking.

We went towards them and realized that they were from Nigeria. They spoke English and the first thing they said to us was “Water! Water!”

They were in a really bad condition and there was no doubt that they would have soon died if we hadn’t had come across them.

Then, they started screaming, “My friends! My friends!” They pointed behind them. We understood that there were other people in distress who were also lost in the desert. A patrol from the Niger army joined the search party.

The cars separated and we started driving in circles up to about 10 kilometers in circumference.

That’s how we came across a group of 12 migrants, who were sitting in a circle in the middle of the desert. Their water canisters were empty. Some of the people were lying on the ground, immobile but alive.

The soldiers found another 12 people from the group scattered around the area. So, in total, 26 people, all from Nigeria, were saved that day. They told us that their smuggler had abandoned them in the desert, telling them that he was going to find water. They said that they had been waiting like that for the past three days.

A gruesome discovery

But the military patrol also told us that they had made a gruesome discovery. The soldiers had found a lifeless body, separated from the rest of the group. While the army called the Dirkou police, we went to see. At first glance, it seemed like a murder.

The scene was difficult to bear because the body had started to swell up and the smell was terrible. But we could see a large wound on his face, just below his right eye. There were still bits of wood stuck in the wound -  apparently, the splinters were from the same type of wood that people cling onto when riding in the back of the jeeps that carry them to Libya. There was an open water canister near the body and it already had sand in it.  

It took the Dirkou police several hours to get to us. A nurse came with them - he was wearing a smock, gloves and a mask.

The police began to investigate the site. They scrutinized the surroundings but there were no tire marks in the sand beside ours. The wind had likely erased them. There was nothing that would help us identify the body. Nothing in his pockets or bag.  

Before leaving, the nurse picked up a shovel and dug a grave that was about 60 centimeters deep in the middle of the desert. He spread out a white tarp and pushed the body of this man onto it. Then, he folded the tarp over the body and covered it with sand.

The 26 people who were rescued said that the man who died hadn't been part of their group. They were shocked but also gravely aware that they could have easily disappeared forever in the desert, like this unknown man."

* The interviewee’s name was changed upon his request