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AU holds belated ceremony for dead migrants

28 May 2015, 11:02

Addis Ababa - The African Union on Wednesday held a small ceremony to pay homage to hundreds of migrants who have perished attempting to flee the continent and reach Europe.

Although there were few in attendance at the event, held in AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, diplomats did pledge more action against human traffickers.

"Human trafficking is a low risk business. It is quite attractive. The risk of arrest and prosecution is low. We must make it an higher risk for the organised criminal groups," said Olawale Maiyegun, the AU's director of social affairs.

Migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean have claimed more than 1,750 lives this year - 30 times higher than the same period in 2014 - and nearly 5 000 since the start of last year.

African leaders, whose citizens constitute the majority of the dead, have come in for increasing criticism over their silence on the issue.

Last week the secretive Horn of Africa state of Eritrea - whose citizens make up one of the largest groups of people trying to reach Europe - also claimed that human rights activists were partly to blame for causing the problem.

Wednesday's ceremony at the AU was the first of its kind held by the pan-African bloc, but only drew a handful of African diplomats and a large number of seats in the AU headquarters' Nelson Mandela hall were empty.

AU commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was also absent.

Ethiopia's ambassador to the AU, however, insisted that Addis Ababa was taking action.

"Ethiopia has been taking measures to tackle the problem. There is an urgent need to address the matter more than ever. We are updating our laws to prevent those tragedies and raising awareness with campaigns in our communities," Wahade Belay said.



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