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10 migrants die, hundreds rescued in Sudan-Libya desert

01 May 2014, 09:02

Khartoum - Ten migrants have died among some 300 abandoned by smugglers in the scorching Sudanese-Libyan desert, with the others in poor condition, Sudanese officials said Wednesday.

"They are hungry and thirsty," Abdelaziz Hassan Salih, a senior official of Sudan's foreign ministry, told the official SUNA news agency.

A human trafficking gang "ordered them to get down from their vehicles", Salih said. Traffickers often abandon migrants after receiving their fees.

"They only care about money," Salih said.

The dead included six Sudanese, two Ethiopians, an Eritrean, and a victim whose nationality is unknown, he added.

Sudan's army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad earlier told AFP that nine Sudanese had died.

"They were on their way to Libya as illegal immigrants," he said.

"The smugglers left them in the desert... on the border between Sudan and Libya," he said.

The survivors are from various nationalities and include Ethiopians, Eritreans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, Saad said.

Sudanese and Libyan troops rescued the migrants in a joint operation, Saad said in a statement posted on the defence ministry's website.

In all, 319 people had been abandoned in the desert, he said.

"They are getting treatment and being transferred to Dongola," a town about 500 kilometres (300 miles) northwest of Khartoum, he added.

Comments by the foreign ministry's Salih suggested the victims were still on the Libyan side of the frontier.

He said Sudan's consul in Al-Kufrah, Libya, coordinated quickly with Libyan authorities and a joint force of Sudanese and Libyan troops on the border.

The loosely governed desert region stretching from eastern Sudan up through Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula is a major route for African migrants seeking a better life.

Thousands of Eritreans make the journey each year. Many head for Israel while others try to get to Europe.

"Some of them try to go through Egypt. Some of them try to go through Libya," said a source familiar with the situation.

"They would try to cross the Mediterranean Sea via Libya."

Twelve Sudanese were killed in a car crash last June trying to evade Libyan police and enter the country illegally after travelling with human traffickers, Sudanese officials said.

Economic migrants or refugees often rely on smugglers.

- 'Raped, beaten, chained' -

More than 350 migrants, mainly from Eritrea, died in an October shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa as they tried to reach Europe.

According to official data, some 600 refugees from authoritarian Eritrea alone make their way to neighbouring Sudan each month.

"The majority of them want to continue onwards," the source said.

Sudan itself ranks near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index of health, education and income.

Wars and poverty have left more than six million people needing humanitarian assistance in the country.

Human Rights Watch accused Egyptian and Sudanese security officers in February of colluding with traffickers, saying they were holding Eritrean migrants for ransom and torturing them.

Amnesty International said last year that Eritrean refugees kidnapped in Sudan were raped, beaten, chained up and sometimes killed after being forcibly transported to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where they are held for ransom.

The London-based watchdog said it received "numerous reports" since 2011 that residents of the Shagarab refugee camp in Sudan's Kassala state, near the Eritrean border, had been abducted.

Sudanese officials in the border region with Eritrea have appealed for European Union help to combat human trafficking.

Migratory pressure pushing across the Mediterranean "is far from diminishing, it is increasing," said a statement from foreign ministers from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain after an informal meeting in the Spanish port of Alicante in April.



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