From file: An abandoned car in the Ténéré desert, in the southern Sahara | Photo: ANSA/AP Photo/Jerome Delay
From file: An abandoned car in the Ténéré desert, in the southern Sahara | Photo: ANSA/AP Photo/Jerome Delay

The bodies of 20 migrants who got lost in the Libyan desert near Chad have been found, Libyan authorities said on Wednesday. The group is believed to have died two weeks ago.

The bodies were discovered by a truck driver traveling through the desert and were recovered on Tuesday (June 29) about 320 kilometers southwest of Kufra and 120 kilometers from the border with Chad, according to news agency Reuters.

"The driver [of the migrants] got lost ... and we believe the group died in the desert about 14 days ago since the last call on a mobilephone there was on June 13," Kufra ambulance chief Ibrahim Belhasan told Reuters by phone.

The ambulance service reportedly released pictures of dead bodies lying around a black pick up truck on the sand. Two of the bodies reportedly were Libyans and the others were believed to be migrants from Chad who had crossed into Libya, the ambulance officials said. 

The news platform The Libya Observer posted a picture on Twitter, but did not say what the source of the photo was.

Deadly desert crossing

Libya is a major transit country for Sub-Saharan African migrants, who often reach the country via the Sahara desert and then try to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The number of migrants who have died attempting to cross the Sahara desert is believed to be even higher than the number of migrants who died on the Mediterranean crossing, even though exact data about this is scarce.

The IOM's Missing Migrants Project has recorded 5,386 deaths in the Sahara Desert since 2014, compared to 24,234 on all Mediterranean routes. However, a very large number of deaths in the desert have likely gone unrecorded.

Migrants transiting the desert are often abandoned by smugglers or lose their tracks. They face dehydration, extreme temperatures, extortion, and violence. They also usually lack functioning means of communication and cannot call for help in time if they get lost.

The risks of the Saharan desert migration route are "both inherent to the desert and human-caused," the IOM said in a 2020 research paper. They said that "the risks posed by the inhospitable terrain of the desert are complicated and exacerbated by instability and violence in the region, harmful smuggling practices and the securitization of borders in the Sahel."

With Reuters

Also read: Death and atrocities constant companions for migrants on African land routes, report


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