Rescued desert migrants to be escorted to Sudan town

About 300 illegal immigrants abandoned by people traffickers in the scorching Sudanese-Libyan desert, where several died, will be escorted to a Sudanese town from Friday, the army said.

Army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP the migrants, who were receiving medical care, would be taken by local Sudanese officials to the northern town of Dongola on the Nile River.

The town is hundreds of kilometres away and "the (road) trip will take about one and a half days," after they leave a Sudanese army base near the Libyan border, he said on Thursday.

A joint force of Sudanese and Libyan troops rescued the migrants -- Sudanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians and others -- after they were dumped in the border region.

A foreign ministry official said 10 had died, including six Sudanese, two Ethiopians and an Eritrean. The nationality of the last victim was still unknown.

The survivors were found hungry and thirsty, said the official, Abdelaziz Hassan Salih.

On Wednesday Saad said nine Sudanese migrants had died in the desert, which stretches from eastern Sudan up through Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula and is a major route for African migrants seeking a better life.

Thousands of Eritreans, in particular, make the journey each year to escape their authoritarian homeland. Many head for Israel while others attempt to reach Europe.

"Some of them try to go through Egypt. Some of them try to go through Libya," said a source familiar with the situation.

"They would try to cross the Mediterranean Sea via Libya."

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an average of 600 refugees from Eritrea make their way to neighbouring Sudan each month.

It was not immediately clear, however, how many of the desert survivors were Eritrean.

UNHCR does not currently have access to the northwest border region, said the agency's Sudan representative, Mohammed Adar.

"Should the army relocate this population to areas accessible to UNHCR we would want to have access to the population to assess their status and, should they be refugees, we would stand ready to provide support," in cooperation with local officials, Adar said.

He added it is "highly unlikely" that Eritreans would be returned to their country.

"We are currently working with a similar group of children who were released from a trafficking gang in December," Adar said.

UNHCR is looking at possible solutions for those children, including asylum in Sudan and family reunification, he said.

Twelve Sudanese were killed in a car crash last June trying to evade Libyan police and enter the country illegally after travelling with people traffickers, Sudanese officials said.

Economic migrants or refugees often rely on smugglers.

More than 350 migrants, mainly from Eritrea, died in an October shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa as they tried to reach Europe.