Robyn Dixon
Los Angeles Times

It’s a long, arduous and well-worn route. Hopeful Africans travel north through Niger, Mali and Algeria, crossing the Sahara desert to reach Europe, find work and send money home to their families.

The exodus often goes nightmarishly wrong for the migrants. They must trust their lives to unscrupulous smugglers. If someone hasn’t been paid along the route, they are sometimes abandoned by their driver. If a vehicle breaks down in the desert, there is no guarantee that help will ever come.

In the latest tragedy, 92 bodies were found in the desert of Niger, according to a Nigerian humanitarian worker, after the migrants’ two trucks broke down near the Algerian border. The bodies were strewn across the desert, found where they fell in their death march to try to reach help. Most were women and children.

The whereabouts of their drivers was not known, according to authorities.

“It was horrific,” Almoustapha Alhacen, a rescuer from a humanitarian organization, told the Associated Press. “We found the bodies of small children who were huddled beside their dead mothers.”

The dead included 52 children, 33 women and seven men, he said. Some children were found alone.

Alhacen told Reuters news service that travelers are usually young men, not women traveling with children.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like it. It is hard to understand what these women and children were doing there,” he said.

The first truck reportedly broke down north of Arlit as it approached the Algerian border. The second truck returned to Arlit for a spare part, leaving the travelers in the desert. It too broke down before reaching the town.

It’s believed that the migrants waited for the truck to return for about five days and then set out looking for help or a water well.

Authorities found out about the breakdown only after two survivors staggered out of the desert and arrived in Arlit days later.

The bodies were scattered over a wide area with a 12-mile radius, suggesting that many of the migrants became lost trying to walk to the Algerian border, which was just six miles away from where the migrants were abandoned.