A truck carrying goods and migrants drives through the Tenere desert region of the south-central Sahara in Niger on June 3. (Jerome Delay/AP)
They are young and old, men, women and children, coming from places such as Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere in West Africa. And they are trying to reach Europe.
Instead, these migrants, who cross through Algeria, are increasingly finding themselves stuck in the Sahara Desert, fending for their lives in extreme heat, far from the destinations they had in mind when they embarked on their dangerous journeys.
According to an Associated Press report this week, in the past 14 months, Algeria has expelled or denied entry to more than 13,000 migrants, pushing them south into the Sahara Desert in Niger and away from Europe. In the Sahara, temperatures reach well over 100 degrees, and outposts are few and far between. Migrants are often dehydrated, hungry, sick and lost. Most interviewed by the AP recall watching others succumb to the difficult conditions. It's tough for aid organizations to count how many migrants have died in the desert, where corpses lie in the sun until they are swallowed by sand.
Last year, the International Organization for Migration estimated that for every migrant who died in the Mediterranean, about two were dying in the Sahara. (In 2017, the IOM recorded 3,116 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. The same year, the organization recorded 412 migrants dying as they attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.)
The AP reported that Algeria is dropping migrants along the border with Niger and then forcing them across, sometimes at gunpoint. Migrants are finding it increasingly difficult to cross through North Africa because of European efforts to halt mass migration from the continent's northern shores.
The IOM began to count the number of people crossing on foot from Algeria's southern border into Niger in May 2017, when it tallied 135 individuals. Those numbers soon skyrocketed. In April 2018 alone, the IOM tallied 2,888 who were dropped at the same crossing.
Some then turn around and try again. Here is a glimpse into what their journey through the desert looks like.
Janet Kamara, a Liberian, sits in an IOM transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2. Kamara was expelled from Algeria and left stranded in the Sahara Desert while pregnant. "Our baby was killed, women were lying dead, men,” she told the Associated Press. "Other people got missing in the desert because they didn't know the way ... Everybody was just on their own.” (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants climb onto a truck at the Assamaka border post in northern Niger on June 3 as they look to head north into Algeria. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants pay for their trip north to Algeria at the Assamaka border post in northern Niger on June 3. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants and locals wait for trucks at a giant desert trading post called "the Dune” in the no man's land separating Niger and Algeria north of the Assamaka border post in Niger. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Liberian Ju Dennis, in an IOM transit camp in the Nigerien desert city of Arlit on June 1, holds a phone that he used to secretly film his plight through the Sahara after being expelled from Algeria. “You’re facing deportation in Algeria ... there is no mercy,” he said. “I want to expose them now. ...We are here, and we saw what they did. And we got proof.” (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants from Sierra Leone who were expelled from Algeria await repatriation in the IOM center in Agadez, Niger, on June 5. Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the desert in the past 14 months, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, in temperatures of up to 118 degrees. (Jerome Delay/AP)
A young migrant expelled from Algeria paces in the transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 1. Traumatized by his experience, he has not spoken since arriving at the center and relies on help from other migrants for food and bathing. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants from Sierra Leone who were expelled from Algeria await repatriation in the IOM center in Agadez, Niger, on June 5. Algeria’s mass expulsions have picked up since October 2017, as the European Union renewed pressure on North African countries to head off migrants going north to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or the barrier fences with Spain. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants from Niger and elsewhere head toward Libya from Agadez, Niger, on June 4. Every Monday evening, convoys filled with the hopeful pass through a military checkpoint at the edge of the city. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants from Niger and other countries head toward Libya from Agadez, Niger, on June 4. They are part of the mass migration toward Europe, some fleeing violence, others just hoping to make a living. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Migrants from Niger and elsewhere head toward Libya from Agadez, Niger, on June 4. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Three men head north toward Algeria on foot after crossing the Assamaka border post in northern Niger on June 3. (Jerome Delay/AP)
The frame of an abandoned Peugeot 404 rests in Niger's Tenere desert region on June 3. (Jerome Delay/AP)
Smugglers are abandoning migrants in the middle of a desert the size of Texas
In Libya, migrants are bought and sold in a brutal, systematic trade
The Sahara is growing, thanks in part to climate change