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Hollande's rant against migrant trafficking not enough to mark end of slavery, say activists

Migrants help another migrant walk to a bus bound for an immigration centre in the coastal city of Misrata, Libya, May 9, 2015.
Migrants help another migrant walk to a bus bound for an immigration centre in the coastal city of Misrata, Libya, May 9, 2015. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

France’s President François Hollande hit out on Sunday against Europe's migrant crisis, comparing people smugglers in the Mediterranean to "slave drivers". His comments were made on International day for the remembrance of the slave trade on May 10, but have been viewed by some critics as a way of avoiding the issue of reparations.

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It was during a state visit to French caribbean island Guadeloupe on Sunday that François Hollande added his voice to other European leaders, to say that the migrant crisis had become "the new slave trade".

The analogy is not inappropriate. The majority of slaves used to arrive in ships crammed to the rim in ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands, rather like the migrants crossing the Mediterranean today.

But invoking new forms of modern slavery, distracts from remembering the slavery of the past, argue some critics.

And even if Hollande has forked out a 80-million euro figure to inaugurate a new slavery memorial on the site of a former sugar refinery in Guadeloupe, he still won't budge on the issue of reparations.

Several activists' groups in the French West Indies and in France have launched legal cases for compensation for the trade, claiming that whole companies benefitted from slave labour.

Yet picking apart who owes what to whom and how much, is a legal nightmare in the waiting, and perhaps explains why European countries like France prefer to rescue than repair.

"The real reparation I think is justice," says Alain Jakubowicz, head of the International league against racism and anti-semitism. "To have justice, you need the truth and to convey that message you need education."

Jakubowicz wants the history of slavery to be stepped up and put on the same level as lessons on the Holocaust.

Other activists like Patrick Lozes, the founder or rights group CRAN, warn against creating a competition between victims. "No memory should take precedent over another," he told RFI.

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