Haitian students to arrive in Senegal to take up offer of new home for quake survivors

Friday, October 8, 2010

Haitian quake survivors to arrive in Senegal

DAKAR, Senegal — Senegal’s president is honoring a promise to offer a home to Haitians recovering from January’s catastrophic earthquake by sending a private plane to the Caribbean nation this weekend to pick up 160 Haitian students, a government official said Friday.

Mamadou Seye, a spokesman for the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, said the chartered flight will leave Senegal Sunday and return Wednesday with the students. Accompanying them will be Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife, Seye said.

They will be met at the airport by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who reacted to news of the Jan. 12 quake by offering free land in Senegal to Haitians impacted by the disaster. His spokesman said Wade considered them the sons and daughters of Africa because their ancestors were taken to the Caribbean as slaves. Both countries are also former French colonies.

There is no longer talk of free land. In September at a speech at the United Nations, Wade said he was inviting the students to continue their studies in local universities. Wade has asked local families to offer to host the students arriving next week. He said he plans to begin bring Haitian families here next year.

Senegal’s GDP per capita is only marginally higher than Haiti’s, and the country is plagued by massive unemployment. Every year thousands of Senegalese men risk their lives trying to reach Europe in flimsy boats for a chance at a better life.

Wade’s project has been met by criticism in a country now facing its worst power cuts in recent memory. Critics accuse him of undertaking showy projects that are intended to build his prestige — including the building of a monument that was supposed to be as tall as the Statue of Liberty — rather than addressing the country’s grinding poverty.

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