The bodies of 18 West African migrants hoping to reach Europe have been found in the Sahara desert near Arlit in Niger, the International Organization for Migration said on Sunday.

The discovery of the group offers a rare glimpse of what migration experts say is a hidden tragedy in the Sahara. Many thousands are attempting to cross the vast and inhospitable terrain in order to reach the Libyan coast, where they hope to begin another hazardous trip by boat to Europe.

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“This case is indicative of the difficulties of these journeys, even before reaching the boats in Libya,” Giuseppe Loprete, the head of IOM in Niger, said in emailed comments.

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“We have to ask ourselves how many people have died [are dying] in the desert even before making it to the Mediterranean,” he said. “We don’t think this is an isolated case but without a systematic collection of information or without a ‘rescue’ operation we will never know how many migrants could be possibly missing.”

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