Category Archives: Labor Traffickers

Indian Maid’s Arm Cut Off by Saudi Boss, Says Sister

Housemaid has her hand chopped off by female Saudi Arabian employer after complaining to authorities she had been tortured and deprived of food
  • Kasturi Munirathinam was working as a cleaner in Saudi city of Riyadh
  • Her arm was cut off, allegedly by her employer after she tried to escape
  • Indian cleaner claims she had been tortured and deprived of food 
Kasturi Munirathinam, originally from the south Indian city of Chennai, had been earning £150 a month while working a cleaner for a household in the Saudi capital.

Kasturi Munirathinam, originally from the south Indian city of Chennai, had been earning £150 a month while working a cleaner for a household in the Saudi capital.

By TOM WYKE FOR MAILONLINE

An Indian housemaid had her hand hacked off allegedly by her female employer in Saudi Arabia and has complained she has been tortured whilst working in Riyadh.

Kasturi Munirathinam, originally from the south Indian city of Chennai, had been earning £150 a month while working as a cleaner for a household in the Saudi capital.

Since she started working in Riyadh, she said she had been tortured and deliberately deprived of food by her employers. 

Her family said that when Ms Munirathinam tried to escape, her employer decided to punish her and cut off her hand.

‘When she tried to escape harassment and torture, her right hand was chopped off by the woman employer. She fell down and sustained serious spinal injuries,’ her sister, S Vijayakumari, told the Press Trust of India.

‘The incident happened after… she complained about torture and non-payment of wages by her employer.’ she said.

Ms Munirathinam was taken to hospital in Riyadh and her condition has now reportedly stabilized.

A video has emerged on social media, allegedly showing the moments after Ms Munirathinam was attacked.

Since she started working for Riyadh, Kasturi Munirathinam alleged she had been tortured and deliberately deprived of food by her employers

Since she started working for Riyadh, Kasturi Munirathinam alleged she had been tortured and deliberately deprived of food by her employers

Ms Munirathinam was taken to hospital in Riyadh and her condition has now reportedly stabilised

Ms Munirathinam was taken to hospital in Riyadh and her condition has now reportedly stabilised

‘I pleaded with the lady not to harm me but she kicked me, punched me and cut off my arm. I want to go back home. Please help me,’ she says in the video according to the Times of India.

‘Kasturi’s employer was angered after she apprised local officials about the harassment she was facing there, she was not even provided food,’ her sister S Vijayakumari told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Sushma Swaraj, India’s minister for internal affairs, tweeted about the woman’s plight in Saudi Arabia.

‘Chopping of hand of Indian lady – We are very much disturbed over the brutal manner in which Indian lady has been treated in Saudi Arabia,’ she wrote.

It is thought Ms Munirathinam sought work in Saudi Arabia to help earn money for her husband and four children in India.

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup has spoken out against the attack on the Indian woman, telling the Indian Express that India had launched an investigation into the attack and will ‘continue to seek justice for the victim’.

‘Our embassy in Riyadh has taken up the matter with the Saudi Foreign Office and asked for strict action in the matter and severe punishment for the sponsor,’ he said.

He said a case of attempted murder should be lodged against the sponsor ‘so that he is punished, if found guilty as per law.’

Qatar’s World Cup Brought to You by Slavery

Blatter hits back in Qatar World Cup 2022 row


FIFA boss Sepp Blatter on Friday hit back at criticism over work conditions on World Cup venues in Qatar, accusing European companies and saying France and Germany pushed the bid for “economic interests”.

The big controversies surrounding Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup have been the shady bidding process and fears that the desert heat will ruin the soccer games. But in the past few days, the spotlight has finally begun to move to longstanding concerns over the treatment of the migrant workers who will be building the physical infrastructure for the sporting bonanza.

Throughout the summer, according to an investigation by Amnesty International [PDF] released this week, the future site of the sporting spectacle became a death trap for the Asian workers brought in by Qatar and its booming construction industry to work on the building sites of the planned World Cup facilities, including commercial areas and transportation infrastructure.

Amnesty found that the workers were encamped in sweltering heat, fell from precarious heights and suffered heart failure under the strenuous labor conditions. One Nepalese official described the entire system of indenture as an “open prison,” according to Der Spiegel. In light of dozens of reported deaths, union activists predict that up to 4,000 may die on the sites between now and the 2022 games.

Through interviews with the World Cup construction workers, the Amnesty investigators gathered horrific stories of an array of abuses, including “not being paid for six or nine months; not being able to get out of the country; not having enough–or any–food; and being housed in very poor accommodation with poor sanitation, or no electricity.”

Workers testified that migrants were frequently forced to work for poverty-level wages or sometimes none at all. Often, they said, employers confiscated their identification documents, effectively holding them hostage out of fear of being detained for lacking papers.

Unfortunately, while horrific, these stories are far from unique in Qatar. More than 90 percentof the labor that fuels the country’s oil-slicked economy is imported, typically brought in by recruiters from South Asian countries. Not only are these migrant workers non-citizens; in the eyes of their employers, they are barely human. They live in barbaric, squalid dormitories, their movement restricted, invisible under Qatari law and cut off from their home communities.

Under the transnational migrant “sponsorship” system, according to Amnesty, workers were drawn into the labor trade by recruiting agents who falsely advertised decent, high-paying work abroad-sometimes taking on heavy debt to secure a job. The byzantine residence permit system further disenfranchises workers. When employers illegally fail to arrange permits for workers, as was frequently the case in the shadowy migrant labor market, they generally cannot return home without paying extremely heavy fines. The restrictions on migrant workers’ movement mean that “rather than protecting the rights of migrant workers, the government is adding to their exploitation,” Amnesty contends.

Underlying the whole system are fundamentally weak protections for labor organizing on the part of Qataris and migrants alike, as well as prohibitions on migrants forming trade unions. The lack of organization among workers means many migrants remain in the dark about their labor rights. One Nepalese worker explained to Amnesty, “There are many workers who keep working like donkeys, without asking a question. They don’t understand what is legally our entitlements, what our rights are.”

Some have tried to challenge employers. According to the report, the Labour Ministry and the courts have each received thousands of worker complaints, many related to basic wage and hour and other labor issues. But due to fear of retaliation and the difficulty non-Qataris face in navigating the justice system, most aggrieved workers, according to investigators, probably do not go through with the complaint process in the first place.

One worker with the U.S.-based electro-mechanical engineering contractor Krantz Engineering wrote in a desperate letter to Amnesty in April 2013 about his lack of legal recourse for his abuse:

I am writing this email after lots of pain and struggle … I have complained in several places like Labour court, Indian Embassy, High court, CID and National Human Rights Council Qatar but no any positive response from anyone of them … I don’t have money to eat food from last five days as I didn’t get salary from last nine months.

Not all of the employers using this labor are Qatar-based–the report linked multinationals such as Hyundai Engineering and Construction and OHL Construction to the subcontractors building the World Cup-related facilities. In the case of Krantz, Amnesty discovered that one of the company’s subcontractors was receiving technical training from a company called TEEX, which is affiliated with Texas A&M University. When questioned by Amnesty about the treatment of migrants, Texas A&M argued the firm “does not have any role in the management and supervision of the labor force at the facility.”

Amid international criticism from Amnesty and other organizations like the UN, Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee, a managing body for the preparation for the games, has vowed to address the reported abuses, and FIFA has issued similar comments. In a formal response to the Guardian published in September, the committee cited numerous labor protections available to migrants, including restrictions on passport confiscation.

But Sharran Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation tells Working In These Times via email she is unconvinced by Qatar’s promises. “Qatar continues to announce that it will reform the visa sponsorship system, yet nothing changes,” she says. In the wake of mounting criticism over the human rights issues surrounding the event, she adds, “Unless Qatar reforms its ways, FIFA should re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup.”

There is also a question of who is directly responsible for regulating labor issues. Amnesty’s report focused on infrastructure construction related to the World Cup but not just the stadium itself–including transportation and supporting commercial facilities. In any case, the primarily responsibility, argue human rights advocates, lies with Qatar to reform its overall labor laws and to tighten oversight of private sector labor practices, particularly for international-sporting projects aimed at creating a global commercial spectacle.

This is not the first time FIFA has come under political pressure; earlier this year, populist protests erupted over the lavish costs of the preparations for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Though FIFA generally urges host countries to comply with international human rights, the World Cup is notorious for inducing local labor violations. For example, labor activists have condemned FIFA for not taking strong enough action against Russia’s temporary suspension of key labor protections for the migrant workers at the building sites for the 2018 World Cup.

The human rights crises haunting World Cup stadiums reveal global sport’s economic realities: the commercial spectacle that brings the world together is built on vast inequalities.

Originally published at In These Times

 

3 Women Imprisoned in a London Home for Over 30 Years

Scotland Yard women captive

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland addresses the media outside New Scotalnd Yard in London on Nov. 21, 2013, during a news meet concerning the rescue of three women believed to have been held as slaves for 30 years.

ADAM WITHNALL

Police have rescued three “highly traumatised” women from a house in south London where they were allegedly held as slaves for more than 30 years. One of the women is thought to have been captive all her life.

Scotland Yard said officers arrested two people in their 60s at their home in Lambeth this morning as part of an ongoing investigation into slavery and domestic servitude.

A 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old British woman were all “rescued” by officers, a statement read, after one of them sent a cry for help to a charity.

Police said they were contacted in October by the Freedom charity, which works to protect the human rights of those at risk of modern slavery.

“They had received a call from a woman stating she had been held against her will in a house in London for more than 30 years,” police said.

After further inquiries, officers were able to locate the house and rescued the women “with the help of sensitive negotiations conducted by the charity.

“All three women, who were highly traumatised, were taken to a place of safety where they remain.”

Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom, said the alleged victims – who are believed to have suffered physical and mental harm – were able to walk out of the property after extensive calls with the charity.

She told Sky News: “We started in-depth to talks to them when they could, it had to be pre-arranged. They gave us set times when they were able to speak to us.

“It was planned that they would be able to walk out of the property. The police were on standby.

“They were able to leave the property, but it was done in such a way… it was a very, very excellent way it happened.”

Ms Prem said the two people arrested were considered the “heads of the family”, and that the women were “absolutely terrified” of them.

She added: “They felt they were in massive danger. I don’t believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street.

“They were very restricted on everything they could do.

“We are absolutely thrilled this has happened.”

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met’s human trafficking unit, said: “ We’ve established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years. They did have some controlled freedom.

”The human trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We’ve seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years but we’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before.”

Mr Hyland said there was a delay in arresting the suspects, who are both non-British, after the women were freed on October 25 as police tried to establish the facts of the case.

“The women were released as soon as possible,” he said.

“There was a delay in the arrest. This was down to the fact that we had to work very carefully with these people who were highly traumatised and it was very difficult to establish the facts.

Asked about what help the women will be given, the charity founder said: “They are going to be afforded all the help and support that can be.

“I’m so grateful they saw the news. Now they will try to re-build their lives.”

Earlier this year the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) – a joint operation by the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – revealed it helped in 1,485 cases of possible forced marriage in 2012, involving 60 countries across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and North America.

The statistics for last year show that of the 744 cases where the age was known, more than 600 involved people under the age of 26.

Three Women Imprisoned in London Home for Over 30 Years

 

Chinese Slave Who Smuggled Note in Halloween Product Has Been Found

Chinese Slave Who Smuggled Note in Halloween Product Has Been Found

Chinese Slave Who Smuggled Note in Halloween Product Has Been Found

Your Halloween decorations may have been made by Chinese slaves. Oregonian Julie Keith learned this from a horrifying letter a slave laborer had slipped between two Styrofoam tombstones in a “Totally Ghoul” holiday kit she bought at Kmart. Care2 Causes told her story last December in “Chinese Labor Camp Inmate Smuggles Out Plea for Help In Kmart Product.” Since then, the letter writer has apparently been identified.

The letter described conditions in the Masanjia Labor Camp. Thousands of inmates worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week, on pain of beatings and torture, the whistleblower wrote. These were not convicts: they were presumed guilty, usually of political crimes or subscribing to a banned religion, and imprisoned without trials.

Keith sought help. Human rights organizations didn’t respond, and U.S. customs officials said there was nothing they could do besides put her report in a folder, though they now call the allegations an “investigative priority.” Ignored by authorities, Keith posted the letter on Facebook. Journalists picked up the story. One outlet, CNN, launched a search for the letter’s author, and remarkably, it seems that they found him.

Speaking under the alias Mr. Zhang, the self-proclaimed writer, who had since been released from Masanjia, told CNN, “the first thing they do is to take your human dignity away and humiliate you.” Zhang said the prison used beatings, sleep deprivation and torture to control inmates. Another former inmate, Liu Hua, has said the camp was “hell on earth.” She described guards ordering other prisoners to beat her and losing consciousness during one such assault; when she awoke, she was forced back to work.

A third former inmate said guards chained detainees up and sexually abused them. Chen Shenchun, who received a two-year sentence for continuing a petition campaign to recover unpaid wages from a state-owned factory, told of electric batons left on her skin so long she could smell burning flesh, and of being dragged by her hair.

China arrested Zhang a few months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, apparently because he was a follower of Falun Gong, which China considers a cult and has outlawed. Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that claims to be based on Buddhism. Zhang and others say that Masanjia’s guards were particularly rough on Falun Gong members, who may have constituted about half the camp’s population. A report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found that the Falun Gong are subject to arbitrary arrest, long detentions and torture, which has resulted in 3,500 deaths. They make up two-thirds of the alleged torture victims whose cases make it to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Other inmates were relegated to labor camps for criticizing the government or for petty crimes.

Zhang wrote 20 letters over two years about the plight of the prison camp’s inmates and packaged them in Halloween decoration kits, which was no small feat. He had to procure paper and a pen, neither of which prisoners were allowed to have. The only time he could write was during the already inadequate sleeping period, but even then the lights were kept on and guards watched every move. Zhang had to lay on his side with his back to the guard and prop the paper on his pillow, painstakingly spelling out the English he learned in college, then smuggle the missives into boxes that looked like they were headed for English-speaking countries.

His bravery and hard work, along with Keith’s determination to help, shone a light on Chinese “Ideological Education Schools.” China’s Communist party claims that it will stop using forced labor by the end of 2013. Masanjia has closed down, but it is only one of more than 300 Chinese labor camps, according to Amnesty International. A China researcher at the organization, Corinna-Barbara Francis, says closing the camps would be hard to do because they make money, and not just from the inmates’ labor. Prison guards collect bribes to ease up on particular detainees or even release them early. “Given the serious money being made in these places, the economic incentive to keep the system going is really powerful,” Francis said.

While Zhang is free, thousands of others continue to suffer in reeducation camps that treat inmates as slaves, while calling them “students.” This is one more reason not to buy products made in China.

 

Delhi: Alleged Human Trafficking, Brutal Torture, Murder of Maid

Delhi: The Devil\'s hole of 175 South Avenue, brutal torture of maids

Beaten, burned and treated like animals Meena and a minor boy are now the star witnesses in the murder case.

Subhajit Sengupta,

New Delhi: It was a slow week and the Diwali weekend had just got over. Festivity was still in the air. A few of my friends wanted me to join them for an early morning ride through the pristine Lutyen’s Delhi.

Being mid week and in a profession that demands 24 hours a day, I ended up not going with them to usher in the winter. Little did I know I would be up and early in the locality working to expose the grim of its dirty underbelly.

A 35-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, sold by a placement agency to Dhananjay Singh, the powerful MP from Jaunpur in Eastern UP, had been allegedly murdered by the 29-year-old doctor wife of the BSP strongman at the official residence of the respected Member of Parliament.

Dhananjay paid around Rs 1 lakh to a middle man named Dev to procure Rakhi in February and that was the last time she saw the world outside 175, South Avenue. Nine months later her body was sent to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital mortuary. Both 175 and 126 South Avenue, Chanakyapuri, are the official residences of the BSP MP from Jaunpur. Flat No. 175 was primarily occupied by his wife Dr Jagriti Singh who is ironically a senior resident in the same RML hospital.

Since the MP had filed for divorce last June, he would rarely stay back in this flat, though he would come often to meet his 4-year-old son.

Apart from Rakhi there were two other domestic helps. A 17-year-old boy and Meena, who was in her early thirties. Beaten, burned and treated like animals these two are now the star witnesses in the murder case.

For they bear testimony, not only to the torture that was meted out to them, but also to the brutal murder of Rakhi. Dhananjay Singh too was aware of this inhuman torture but did nothing to save them.

Details of the FIR

According to the FIR within months of joining, Rakhi got a sense of what awaited her. On April 1 Jagriti beat up Rakhi with a broom for not making the food as per her taste. Not content with it, she also chopped off her hair to satisfy her rage.

The minor says, “Jagriti used to beat us on the smallest of the issues; she never felt any sympathy for us. Not even when blood would drip from Rakhi’s body. She would ask me to wash the blood spots, while she carried on hitting her. Once she hit me with antlers when the motor of the aquarium stopped working while I was filling water in it.”

The FIR goes on to read: “Once she hit Rakhi so hard that the stick broke, then Jagriti used the sharp edges of the broken stick to hit Rakhi. Whenever MP Saab (Dhananjay) would come home we would complain to him. But he would change topic and say ‘why do you make mistakes? Other servants too have worked here’. He too had hit us with his shoes a couple of times.”

Rakhi used to look after their 4-year-old son. And whenever the child would cry she would be beaten up.

But here comes the most sordid bit. The final assault that continued for days from November 1 when Rakhi woke up around 4 am instead of the scheduled 3:50 am. She hit Rakhi with sticks and kicked her hard. Jagriti then called the MP a little later in the day and told him Rakhi will have to pay for her mistakes and she will kill her. Next day an injured Rakhi was a little slow at her work and this infuriated Jagriti.

She kept beating her for hours and made her sleep out in the open on a night when the Delhi winter was showing its first glimpses. Later in the night the senior resident dentist of RML hit her with a stick again and refused to give her any food.

On November 4, she asked the minor domestic help to wake up Rakhi around 4:30 am. But she did not wake up. Later at around 8:30 am he went to check on her again. This time her body had gone cold, her gaze fixed. And that was the end of Rakhi.

Role of the MP

When the dentist wife realized that she has killed the maid, she called her husband who was in Jaunpur at that time. Dhananjay flew back to take control of the situation. He got the blood stains washed and sent the other maid to a relative’s place.

The MP threatened the minor with dire consequences if he said a word to anyone. Mukesh Meena, Joint CP, New Delhi Range said, “He tampered with the DVR of the CCTV camera which were fixed inside the house and did not inform the police about the murder till rather late.”

While she was dead by 8:30 am, the police were only informed by 8 pm. For this the powerful MP too was arrested and charged under Destruction of Evidence and Juvenile Justice Act.

Story of the other domestic helps

There are 20 CCTV cameras fixed inside 175, South Avenue. Even the toilet used by the help had cameras installed. The condition of the third help too is rather serious.

Meena told the magistrate in her statement that Jagriti broke her hip bone and burned her buttocks with hot iron. She was made to eat like an animal, with her hands and legs on the ground. She would be forced to use her mouth to pick up food from the plate.

After Rakhi died, Meena was kept hidden at another place. Jagriti even spat on the food that was eaten by the helps. The juvenile in his statement claimed that once she suspected him of breaking a glass tumbler and as a punishment burnt his stomach with hot iron. She also used wooden replica of antelope horns to beat them up.

This went on for months. The helps were told that if they ever stepped outside they would be shot dead by the security guards standing outside the house. One day the minor boy was beaten up for speaking to the guard.

The case as of now

Both the husband and the wife are in police custody now. The probe has revealed that Rakhi (deceased) and Meena (seriously injured) were not paid a single paisa. Whenever they demanded money, the two were beaten up.

A onetime payment of around Rs 1 lakh was made to the agent who got Rakhi to them. The teenage domestic help was paid only Rs 5000 on two occasions in the past 12 months. Initial autopsy report says that Rakhi had wounds all over her body and her death was as a consequence of those wounds. The detailed post mortem report and the forensic reports of the DVR of the CCTV footage is expected by Monday.

SBS Tyagi, Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, says that they are looking at the option of slapping Posca (Prevention of Children Against Sexual Offences Act) and investigating the human trafficking angle as well. The trafficking aspect gathers steam because of the growing number of such cases that are coming to light. In the last one month Delhi has seen 3 major cases of abuse of the domestic helps.

Maid abuse and Delhi 

On September 30 Vandana Dhir, a senior executive of a reputed multinational firm, was arrested for assaulting her domestic help, beating her and branding her with a hot girdle. The maid, who hails from Jharkhand, alleged that she was also forced to drink her urine and was kept by Dhir in her Vasant Kunj house in a semi-naked condition. She was rescued by a joint team of NGO Shakti Vahini and Delhi Police from Dhir’s residence.

On October 29 police had rescued a minor maid from Netaji Nagar area of South Delhi. The employer used to beat the girl and locked her when she went abroad. The girl managed to escape from the roof and made a PCR call. The employer is an air hostess with a government airline and was not in the country when the maid was rescued. She was arrested upon her return and charged under sections of Juvenile Justice Act, Child Labour Act and Section 342 of IPC.

What next?

There is an urgent need to stop the rampant human trafficking and fly by night maid providing agencies. In cases after cases the trail turns cold as by the time police reach the agency, they have shut shops and moved on. The Delhi High Court too had stepped in after a PIL and had asked the government to regularize these agencies.

The High Court was informed on November 6, that 1,754 placement agencies have been registered under the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act. “The Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill has been drafted after incorporating suggestions of various stakeholder,” the division bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Manmohan was told.

But even here there is a clear delay. The High Court had held way back in March 2012 that the bill should be enacted within two to three months but nothing has been done to date. There were TWO sessions and about 25 odd sittings of the Delhi Assembly since then but the bill was never tabled.

The last word

NGOs like Shakti Vahini and Bachpan Bachao Andolan who have rescued 1000s of people from being trafficked say that it is not just the poverty in a few backward states that are forcing them to work in such inhuman conditions. It is also the demand for cheap labor in the urban household which is fueling the cunning of a number of these placement agencies.

But the last three cases have actually thrown all the stereotypes of gender, education and urbaneness out of the window. The perpetrators here ,of the mindless violence, are educated, suave, sophisticated women.

Bodies of 92 Nigerian Migrant Workers Found Near Algerian Border

Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert. Women and children who tried to cross desert on foot to reach Algeria suspected to have been trafficked

Graves dug for stranded migrants in Sahara

Graves are dug for the migrants who died in the Sahara in October. Of this migrants’ group 21 who survived reached the nearest town, Arlit, in Niger.

The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger.

An aid worker in Niger, a vast, landlocked country that straddles the desert between north and sub-Saharan Africa, told the Guardian that the scene was traumatic for the rescuers. They had discovered the bodies scattered in small groups around the desert.

“This is extremely difficult and the most horrible thing I have ever seen,” said Almoustapha Alhacen, a rescuer who lives in Arlit, a uranium mining town 50 miles away. “These are women and children; they were abandoned and left to die. We found them scattered over a large area, in small groups. Some were lying under trees, others exposed to the sun. Sometimes we found a mother and her children. Some were children alone.”

“They were left there for so long that their bodies are decomposed. Some of the bodies are still there.”

The group was discovered after survivors reached Arlit on foot. Local experts said that the people were victims of human trafficking and were believed to have died two weeks ago as they tried to walk 12 miles in scorching sun to reach a well after the lorry they were travelling in broke down leaving them stranded.

Sources in Niger said that the group, who began their perilous journey across the desert in late September, was comprised of local people from Zinder, the second largest city in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria.

“We think that all these people are from the villages around Zinder,” said Alhacen. “But until the investigation is finished, we cannot know all the details. It is very common for migrants to travel through this part of Niger. We have people from Nigeria and Burkina Faso, as well as people from Niger. They are trying to reach Libya and Algeria.”

One security expert stressed that the group were not economic migrants but victims of trafficking.

Moussa Akfar, a security expert based in Niamey, Niger’s capital, said: “This was in fact a case of poor people and children who were being trafficked to Algeria. There is an inquiry underway but we know that this was trafficking because economic migrants go to Libya – in Libya you find people of all nationalities, from Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries, heading to Europe.

“In this case all the victims were Nigerien from Zinder, and they were being trafficked. The questions that have to be asked now is how officials on road checkpoints did not alert the authorities about this group. There is endemic corruption at work.”

Details are still emerging about what happened to the group. The discovery of the 92 people – they were known to be 32 women and 48 children among them, reports said – comes after a further 35  bodies were found this week.

The two groups were believed to be of the same set of migrants who were travelling north  aboard two lorries in an attempt to reach Algeria.

They died in October, only six miles from the border between Niger and Algeria, after one of their two vehicles broke down and left them stranded as it headed off looking for replacement parts.

Niger security sources told the local press that 21 had survived, including two who had walked across the desert to Arlit, the nearest town and site of a plant for the French nuclear company Areva.

A further 19 who continued on their journey to Algeria and reached the town of Tamaresset, in southern Algeria, were turned away and repatriated back to Niger, local press reported.

The route taken across Niger’s desert, which often begins in the southern town of Zinder and then proceeds through desert to the town of Agadez, is a well-known traffickers’ route for transportations to north Africa.

Beyond the Sahara some people then try to board boats to Europe, while others end up in Algeria seeking work.

“Zinder and Agadez, these are the main migrant routes, as well as human trafficking routes in Niger,” said Johnson Bien-Aime from the children’s development organisation Plan Niger. “We know that trafficking is happening every day in these areas, but unfortunately, until now, nothing has been done about it.”

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rocked by repeated food crises in recent years. Last year Save the Children termed Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother amid its warnings that continuing poverty levels were driving people to undertake life-threatening journeys to higher income nations.

While many in Niger said that the October deaths were linked to trafficking, Algeria being the intended destination, Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, said the group could have been trying to reach Europe.

“They were probably heading to the Mediterranean to try to go to Europe, or else to Algeria to work,” said Feltou.

Rescue workers who found the bodies said the group could have included a party from an Islamic madrasa school, given the large number of children and an elderly man among the victims who appeared to be an Islamic teacher.

The plight of migrants from Africa and the Middle East is increasingly under the spotlight after a series of tragedies in which large numbers have died trying to reach Europe, including the 365 who perished off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3 October when their boat capsized.

Tens of thousands of west African migrants, many of whom have paid as much as $3,000 to be taken across the desert from Niger to north Africa, arrive in Europe by sea each year, according to the United Nations.

“Sadly this is a typical migration that has been going on over last number of years,” said John Ging, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “We estimate that 80,000 make that journey every year from the Sahara, and basically they are economic migrants so impoverished they have to make these hazardous journeys.”