The bodies of 92 migrants, most of them women and children, were found in the Sahara Desert of northern Niger just a few kilometers from the border of Algeria, rescue workers announced Thursday.
The deceased, who were likely en route from Niger to Algeria, died of dehydration after their vehicle broke down in the desert, the BBC reports.
Writing slates were found in the luggage of the dead, suggesting the 52 children who perished were Qu'ranic students traveling to Algeria, Reuters reports.
"This is extremely difficult and the most horrible thing I have ever seen," said Almoustapha Alhacen, who assisted in the rescue effort and lives in Arlit, a uranium mining town 50 miles from the scene of the tragedy. "These are women and children; they were abandoned and left to die."
The Guardian reports that local experts believe the deceased to be victims of human trafficking.
Niger lies along a route often traveled by migrants making their way from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.
The dangers African migrants face along their journey have grabbed global attention in the wake of a series of recent tragedies, including the capsize of a boat carrying migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa in early October that resulted in at least 365 deaths.
Critics have long charged that anti-migrant policies in North Africa and Europe contribute to the deaths of people forced to migrate by poverty, food crises and global inequalities.
John Ging, director of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, estimates that 80,000 migrants cross the Sahara desert through Niger.