Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the Sahara Desert over the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, expelling them without food or water and forcing them to walk, at times at gunpoint, under blistering temperatures of up to 118 degrees. In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 9-mile no man's land to the border village of Assamaka. Others wander for days before a UN rescue squad can find them. Untold numbers perish; nearly all of the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by the AP told of people who simply vanished. "Women were lying dead, men ... Other people got missing in the desert because they didn't know the way," said Janet Kamara, who was pregnant at the time. "I lost my son." The International Organization for Migration estimates that for every migrant known to have died crossing the Mediterranean, as many as two are lost in the desert—potentially upward of 30,000 people since 2014.
Algeria provides no figures for expulsions, but the number of people crossing on foot to Niger has been increasing since IOM started counting in May 2017, when 135 people were dropped, to as high as 2,888 in April 2018. In all, a total of 11,276 survived the march. At least another 2,500 were forced on a similar trek to neighboring Mali, with an unknown number succumbing along the way. The migrants describe being rounded up by the hundreds, crammed into trucks for hours, then dropped in the desert and pointed toward Niger. "There were people who couldn't take it. They sat down and we left them. They were suffering too much," says a Senegalese teen. "They tossed us into the desert, without our telephones, without money." The AP confirmed migrants' accounts via videos. "They come by the thousands," says an IOM official in Assamaka. "It's a catastrophe." (Read more Algeria stories.)