Sahara migrant survivor: I buried my family

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14-year-old Shafa: "Some 15 of us died on the second day"

The bodies of 87 people, thought to be migrants, were discovered in the Sahara desert in the north of Niger on Wednesday. They died of thirst when their vehicles broke down en route to Algeria. Shafa, a 14-year-old girl from Niger, survived and told the BBC's Newsday programme her story:

We were on our way to Algeria to visit family members. There were more than 100 of us in a convoy of two vehicles. Our truck broke down and it took a whole day to fix. In that time we ran out of water.

We managed to find a well but there was very little water - one of us climbed down into the well and managed to draw out a tiny amount, but the rest of us went thirsty.

The drivers told us to wait while others went to fetch water, but a night and a day later they had not returned.

That was when people started dying. Some 15 of us died on that second day without water.

We moved on with the dead bodies in the truck. By this time the second vehicle had returned with some water, Alhamdulillah (thanks to God).

We came across some Algerian security forces - but the drivers turned around because they didn't want to be caught carrying us since this was illegal.

They asked us to hide inside a trench, we spent another night there - so that is three nights in a row without any water.

One woman started complaining and one of the drivers used a hose to beat us.

Many women and children died. The drivers had some water in jerrycans but kept it for themselves.

'I buried them'

From there they took us back into Niger. Our water ran out again. There we were, hungry and sitting amidst corpses in the truck.

Once we were in Niger, the drivers removed the bodies from the truck for burial. They laid them out on the ground - mothers first, then their children on top of them.

Those of us who were still able to move were told we would be taken back to our village. On the way, we ran out of petrol and they asked us to give them money to buy more.

They told us to get out of the car while they went to get the fuel. They never came back.

We waited for two days in the desert - no food, no water - before we decided to start walking.

Some vehicles passed by, we tried to stop them but no-one would stop. One of the passing cars even knocked down three of our group and killed them.

There were eight of us by now, including my mum and my younger sisters. When we got tired, we sat under a tree, and that was where one of my sisters died. We buried her there.

Then we continued walking and after a day, my second sister died. Then on the third day my mother died. I buried all of them myself.


None of the vehicles that passed by agreed to stop and pick me up.

After a while I found a tree and sat under its shade, almost giving up at that point... then a car came by.

I took off my blouse and started waving it wildly. He stopped and asked me what happened and I told him. They gave me some milk, then water and rice cake.

I ate a little bit but I couldn't continue, then they made me some tea.

It was only then that we carried on travelling towards Arlit, where I was reunited with my grandfather.

So here I am - my father died long ago, now my mother is dead, I have no sisters, no brothers.

I am living with my aunt. I heard that only myself and a little girl and 18 men survived the journey out of more than 100 of us.

Migration routes across the Sahara desert

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