Dozens of West African migrants have died of thirst in the Sahara Desert as they were trying to reach Europe. At least 44 people, including women and children, were found dead after their vehicle broke down in the desert in northern Niger.

The migrants, mostly from Nigeria and Ghana, were heading towards Libya, which has become one of the main escape routes for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Six survivors managed to walk to a nearby village, said Lawal Taher, the department head for the Red Cross in the Bilma region, according to Reuters.

Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Agadez, a remote town on the edge of the Sahara, confirmed the death toll stood at 44, Al Jazeera reported.

A similar incident in 2013 saw at least 92 people – of whom 52 were children – die of thirst in northern Niger after their vehicle broke down. The migrants were travelling towards the Algerian border.

The route from Niger to Libya has become one of the most used for migrants who want to reach Europe. It is estimated that thousands of people embark on the perilous journey across the desert every week.

People are crammed into pickup trucks for days, often with only a few litres of water available, Reuters said.

Migrants who manage to reach Libya are often victim of abuses at the hands of human traffickers.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is considering whether to open an investigation into alleged crimes against vulnerable migrants detained in Libya.

Earlier this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned migrants were being sold at public slave markets in the country. The organisation also said at least 20,000 migrants are held by criminal gangs in detention centres in Libya.