ABUJA – Nigeria on Monday urged the African Union to step in to stop what it said were “xenophobic attacks” on its citizens and other Africans in South Africa.

The Nigerian presidency said there was a need for the continental body to “intervene urgently,” claiming that in the last two years “about 116” Nigerians had been killed, including 20 last year.

“This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” a senior presidential aide on foreign affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said in an emailed statement.

There was no independent verification of the claimed number of deaths, which may have been the result of wider criminal activities rather than anti-immigrant sentiment.

According to the Nigerian Union in South Africa, there are about 800,000 Nigerians in South Africa, many of them living in Johannesburg.

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