DAKAR, Senegal — Nearly 100 African migrants hoping to escape crushing poverty met a grisly end in the desert, officials said Thursday, dying of thirst under the baking sun after their two trucks broke down in the middle of the Sahara before reaching Algeria.
It took weeks for authorities to learn of the tragedy and for teams to reach the site, where they found a gruesome scene including the remains of 52 children and 33 women.
‘‘It was horrific. We found badly decomposing bodies and others that had been eaten by jackals,’’ said Almoustapha Alhacen, the head of a nonprofit organization in northern Niger that helped bury the bodies and who was at the site Wednesday. ‘‘We found the bodies of small children who were huddled beside their dead mothers.’’
The victims were spread across a 12-mile radius, suggesting they had set off on foot but failed to head in the direction of the Algerian border just 6 miles away, he added.
The tragedy is the latest to shed light on the perils of illegal migration. In early October, at least 365 migrants drowned when a boat capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than to the European mainland.
The migrants in Niger had begun their journey late last month in two trucks and were being smuggled along a well-established trafficking route to neighboring Algeria, said Colonel Garba Makido, the governor of Niger’s Agadez province.