Niger says it has intercepted over 500 Sahara migrants

NIAMEY Tue Jun 3, 2014 2:52pm EDT

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger has stopped more than 500 would-be migrants trying to cross the Sahara into neighboring Algeria in the past four months, the justice ministry said on Tuesday, as it cracks down on gangs ferrying people across the desert.

Thirty nine people including 29 women have been detained on charges of human trafficking in the northern uranium mining town of Arlit, which justice minister and government spokesman Marou Amadou visited last week, the ministry said in a statement.

Niger sits at a crossroads of migrant routes linking North Africa to the rest of the continent. Most of the migrants heading to Algeria are women and children from Niger's remote southeast who are sent to beg outside mosques in Algeria.

Many people emigrate to flee Niger which, despite being a uranium producer and one of Africa's newest oil producers, is ranked by the United Nations as one of the world's poorest countries and faces food shortages due to perennial drought.

Amadou said in the statement that it was difficult to dissuade and reprimand those who were involved in trafficking.

"People who appear to be victims, especially women, sometimes are not necessarily," he said.

The government promised to crack down on smuggling after 92 migrants died trying to make the same trip to Algeria late last year. The fate of over a dozen migrants is still unknown after smugglers abandoned by smugglers in the Sahara desert in May. At least 13 of the group over 50 have been found dead while 14 others were rescued.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Bate Felix/Ruth Pitchford)

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