Just minutes from the city, faint tire tracks blow away in the wind, and the vast expanse of sand quickly becomes disorienting.
The sprawling desert north of Agadez, in the west African nation of Niger, is the size of France — and the search is on for a single stranded truck.
We’re lucky; our military convoy is armed and equipped with GPS, along with rough coordinates of which way to head. But as night falls and we begin to burn through our petrol reserves revving through the deep sand, uncertainty spreads.
Somewhere out there is a group of terrified migrants, lost in the desert for days, fearing that their hopes for a better future far away from here will end amid the dark and shifting sands that surround them.
Best (CNN is withholding her last name for her protection) knows only too well what the migrants we are looking for are going through. She was one of the few to make it out of a similar truck alive, surviving for 24 days in the desert.
Around her, the other passengers died, one by one, as they waited weeks for rescuers to arrive.
“The first day, two guys died because of the hot sun. The third day was when people were giving up,” says Best.
The group had only one jerry can of water between them, and had to ration supplies
“We were economizing ourselves,” she explains. “We put a little water, just to taste it on the tongue, not to get dried up,” she says.
Of the 27 people who boarded the truck, just three survived.
Promises of a better life
Best had been lured away from her home in Nigeria by the promise of a better life in Germany. The smugglers told her they had found her a job as a hairdresser; she just had to cross the desert into Libya, where she could get on a boat to Europe.
“They said it was just a one week journey. I spent more than one month and I didn’t get to Libya,” she says.
When she arrived in Niger, she began to…