Human traffickers in Ethiopia could face life in jail or the death penalty under a bill presented to parliament on Tuesday aimed at curbing the illegal flow of people in and out of the Horn of Africa country.
The move comes two months after at least 30 Ethiopian migrants were shot and killed by Islamic State militants in Libya and after others have died while heading to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean.
The legislation, proposed by the Ministry of Justice, contains a range of penalties for trafficking and smuggling including fines of up to 500,000 birr about $7,500 and the death penalty in cases where victims suffer severe injury or death.
The bill must be approved by the House of Representatives, which could take several months, officials said.
Although Ethiopia’s economy is growing at one of Africa’s fastest rates, unemployment still remains high and thousands of people opt to take treacherous treks across the Sahara to reach Europe via the Mediterranean or brave the Gulf of Aden to reach wealthy Gulf States in search of jobs.
For a period of several months beginning in late 2013, Saudi Arabia deported more than 163,000 Ethiopians it said lived in the Kingdom illegally.
The US State Department urged Addis Ababa last year to amend and strengthen its laws to tackle people smuggling, toughen penalties, boost judicial understanding and police capacity, as well as improve oversight of recruitment agencies.
The draft legislation provides immunity to victims and proposes the formation of a national committee led by Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister to co-ordinate anti-trafficking activity.