SENEGAL-HAITI: Welcome for quake students

Some 160 young Haitians were due to arrive in Senegal last week to start higher education studies, under a scheme proposed by President Abdoulaye Wade following the earthquake that devastated the Caribbean state in January.

A Senegalese delegation flew to Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on 10 October to pick up the students, who have been offered places at universities across Senegal. They were due to fly in on Wednesday to a welcoming ceremony in Dakar, attended by Wade.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale Mamadou Lamine Bâ, Minister in the Department of International and Humanitarian Affairs in the president's office, said:

"The Haitian people who were hit by this earthquake were originally people of Africa. The Haitians of today left the shores of Africa, of Guinea they said at the time. For the sake of humanity, we must go to their help, following the example of all the peoples of the world, but equally because they are our blood-brothers. That is why we must welcome them here."

Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students lost their lives during the earthquake, among them a Senegalese, said Bâ. "That is why we, Senegalese, must first help them reconstruct their schools and universities.

"There were 10,000 young people queuing at the selection centre. In three days we could only collect 2,050 applications, while it was planned we would give just 100 bursaries to start with.

"Faced with this pressure, the wish of these thousands of young people to come to Senegal - many wanting to study but also to discover the land of their ancesters - made us adjust and increase the number to 160, of course taking into account the capacity of our universities," Bâ told RFI.

Le Soleil of Dakar reported that the young Haitians, "with profiles ranging from agronomy to medicine, via building and social sciences", had been selected by a commission of academics, medics and representatives from the gendarmerie and police.

The paper said the students' arrival resulted from an appeal made by Wade following the earthquake on 12 January, calling for a "return to Africa for the people Haiti". This was followed up by a symbolic donation to the Haitian people of FCfa 250 million (US$527,000).

The president had repeated his call at the United Nations in September where he announced the plan to invite the Haitians to follow their studies in Senegal, said Le Soleil.