Migrants Stranded in the Desert Return Home
A group of 30 Indian and Bangladeshi
migrants left stranded in the baking Mauritanian desert by
smugglers with little water, no food or identification papers, are
returning home voluntarily with help from IOM.
The group, which consists of 22 Indians and
eight Bangladeshis, had been flown from the Mauritanian desert town
of Zouerate earlier this week to the coastal town of Nouakchott.
Yesterday, they began their journey home via Tunis and Dubai. An
IOM escort is accompanying the group of Indians while IOM staff
will provide arrival assistance to the eight Bangladeshis in
The men had all been found in the desert
outside of Zouerate in December 2005. Some of the men had been
abandoned by smugglers who had taken them to a remote spot and
ordered them to get families back home to wire some money or they
would be left behind. Others in the group had been abandoned
because gendarmes were patrolling the area. In both cases, the men
had very little water and no food.
The migrants paid smugglers between 9-16,000
Euros to take them to Europe, according to IOM’s Vijaya
Souri, who is managing the operation.
The group of Indians said that after five days
of trying to live off half a gallon of water and in the end having
to drink their urine, they had given up hope and were expecting to
die when a patrol found them.
The men, who since December have been living
in difficult conditions in Zouerate with irregular and little water
supply, have survived largely by taking on any work they could find
such as doing laundry or cleaning. The 30 migrants had been part of
a much larger group of about 72 people in Zouerate that included
Pakistanis and which had been of concern to IOM since the start of
the year. The others in the group had decided to try again with
smugglers to get to Europe.
Every year, thousands of irregular migrants
from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia try to reach the northern
shores of the Mediterranean via the Maghreb by using smuggling
“The men speak of a place called Camp
Spain where migrants congregate before separating to go to their
final destinations in other European countries,” said Souri.
“During the time that we have spent with this group of 30,
they have received several calls on their mobile phones from other
migrants who say they have reached Camp Spain. They have also
received constant calls from smugglers urging them to continue
their journey because the smuggling agents back in India and
Bangladesh don’t want to have to reimburse the money already
paid out,” she added.
Since late 2004, IOM has assisted 290 Indians
and Bangladeshi migrants who were left abandoned in the deserts of
North Africa to return home voluntarily. Last December, IOM
launched a global humanitarian assistance programme to help the
growing numbers of migrants stranded in either transit or
destination countries. With IOM’s caseload outstripping
demand, the programme is in constant need of funds.
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