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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
In pictures: Mali's desert gateway
View of Gao
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The desert town of Gao is 1,200km from the Malian capital. For many migrants it is the starting point for a dangerous trip across the Sahara Desert.
Gao houses
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Before their desert crossing, migrants bound for Europe are normally accommodated by smugglers in the town's mud-wall houses.
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The Touaregs are famous for their knowledge of the desert - which in some cases helps them smuggle illegal migrants.
Gao mosque
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Gao's religious leaders want the authorities to take action against what they say are the migrants' "immoral" actions, such as prostitution.
Statue of Askia Muhammed
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Gao used to be at the centre of the Songhai empire, which reached its zenith under the Askia dynasty founded by Askia Muhammad in 1492.
Girls carrying pots on their heads
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Apart from people smuggling, there are few other sources of income in Gao.
Salt trader
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Salt dug up from under the sand has been traded across the Sahara Desert for centuries.
Cattle farmer
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Despite the harsh terrain around Gao, many people live by raising cattle and other animals.


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