May 16 (UPI) -- Dozens of refugees seeking asylum in Europe have died this year in the blistering heat of Africa's Sahara Desert and thousands more are trapped there, a United Nations agency said Wednesday.
The International Organization for Migration said the migrants have been stranded in the desert in recent weeks after they were expelled from Algeria. It also said it's providing shelter for up to 3,500 of the displaced in Niger.
Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said last year the migrants are "a threat to national security."
A crackdown on migration by Algerian authorities has led to the deportations of thousands who hoped to make it to Africa's Mediterranean coast en route to Europe.
Many deportees, mostly from sub-Saharan Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria, have been left in the desert's scorching 120-degree heat.
Officials said migrants are often taken in trucks to desert locations miles from Algeria's border with Niger, without water, and dropped off there. Many die before they are rescued.
At least 7,000 people are expected to have passed through the IOM shelter by the end of June, before they return to their home countries.
"Most of them have no money or identity documents, food or water. They are traumatized. In some cases they have been unable to get transport and have walked or they have been abandoned by human traffickers and don't know where they are," Giuseppe Loprete, IOM chief for migration in Niger, said. "Recently we found a group that started out as 50 but only six remained alive.
"The total number of deaths must be in the dozens in this current crisis and definitely in the thousands since 2015."