Sahara desert deaths: Niger to close illegal migrant camps

Anyone found trafficking immigrants will be severely punished, the Government has warned in a televised broadcast

Niger has announced plans to shut illegal migrant camps after the bodies of 92 people who had died from thirst were discovered in the Sahara desert.

Anyone found assisting in the trafficking of migrants would be "severely punished", the Government said in a televised statement in Niger.

It said migrants would be handed over to international aid agencies and traffickers would be prosecuted, according to the BBC.

“This tragedy is the result of criminal activities led by all types of trafficking networks,” it continued.

The warning came after rescuers found the bodies of 92 migrants, including 52 children and 33 women on Wednesday, strewn across the Sahara in northern Niger after their vehicles broke down and they died of thirst.

Prime Minister Brigi Rafini  said he will visit the southern district of Kantache, where many of the migrants are believed to have come from, to offer their families “condolences of the nation wounded by this tragedy” as Niger observes three days of mourning.

Northern Niger lies on a major corridor for illegal migration and people-trafficking from sub-Saharan Africa into North Africa and across the Mediterranean into Europe. Most of those who make the perilous journey on ancient open-topped trucks are young African men in search of work.

On Friday, Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people in silent prayer in memory of the migrants.

People packed in St. Peter's Square on Friday bowed their head as the pope asked for prayers for ''our brothers and sisters“ who perished ”from thirst, hunger and exhaustion“ trying to reach a better life.

Many people flee poverty in Niger, ranked by the United Nations as the least developed country on earth. Some work in neighbouring Libya and Algeria to save money before returning home.