The bodies of 18 African migrants have been recovered in the Sahara desert in northern Niger, the International Organization for Migration said Sunday. The news of the migrants' deaths comes even as Europe is struggling to deal with a rising number of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
The migrants, who were bound for Europe, likely died of hydration, according to IOM officials. Among the dead were 17 men and one woman, mostly West African nationals who were hoping to reach the Libyan coast to get on boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, the Associated Press reported. The migrants -- travelling in an SUV -- are believed to have died on June 3, after a sandstorm threw them off course until they ran out of fuel and were stranded in the desert, Reuters reported, citing IOM authorities.
"This tragedy highlights a feared but hitherto little-known danger too many migrants face long before they risk their lives at sea," William Lacy Swing, the IOM's director general told AP. "The Sahara may be as deadly as the Mediterranean for this wave. All too tragically many of these deaths go unreported," she added.
According to AP, the route through northern Niger is heavily trafficked and, in October 2013, Niger authorities found 92 bodies of migrants who had died of dehydration after their vehicles broke down.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed to "hurt" the European Union if the migrant crisis in Italy is not dealt with properly. The country is struggling to accommodate waves of migrants and a security crackdown at the French and Austrian borders has worsened the situation, resulting in a bottleneck at Italy’s train stations, the Guardian reported.
“It is a serious issue and, let me be clear, Europe’s answers so far have not been good enough,” Renzi told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, cited by the Telegraph. He also said that the crisis “should not be underestimated.”
“Redistributing just 24,000 people is almost a provocation,” he reportedly said. “If Europe chooses solidarity, good. If it doesn’t, we have Plan B ready. But it would first and foremost hurt Europe,” Renzi added. He, however, did not elaborate on the details of the ‘Plan B.’
The Mediterranean migrant crisis has hit Europe badly, and in particular Italy, with at least 54,000 immigrants -- most of whom are fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa -- arriving in the country until June 8 this year alone, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees statistics, which include about 6,000 migrants who were rescued in southern Italy last weekend.