Twenty-two migrants from Mali, including three children, have died off the coast of Libya, Mali’s government said in a statement on Tuesday.
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.”