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Senegal welcomes Haiti students

Scores of students from quake-hit Haiti started new lives as they stepped off a plane in Senegal.

There was traditional singing and dancing as dozens of Senegalese students met students from the earthquake ravaged Caribbean country, waving banners that read: "Welcome to the home of your ancestors."

Even though the west African nation is one of the poorest countries in the world, its government has offered hundreds of Haitian students new homes and a chance to study.

The 163 students are the first batch of arrivals from Haiti in a project started by President Abdoulaye Wade.

When the president saw footage of the devastation in Haiti after the January earthquake, Mr Wade offered to help. He said that Haitians are the sons and daughters of Africa because their ancestors were taken from the continent as slaves.

Senegal which is only slightly better off than Haiti, is a French-speaking nation, while Haitians speak Creole, which comes from the French language.

The students will be given free housing and scholarships in Senegal, whose main University is often shut by strikes over the late payment of scholarships.

As they were given a bus tour of the westernmost point of Africa which juts out into the Atlantic, Mr Wade told the students: "Your ancestors left here by physical force. You have returned through moral force. When the slaves embarked on the ships, this is the last piece of African earth they saw. Dear students, it is on this point of land that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic that we have chosen to receive you.

"You are neither strangers nor refugees. You are members of our family."

It was all too much for some of the students. Peterson Paul, a 22-year-old sociology student from Haiti’s levelled Delmas neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince lost his house in the quake. When he heard about President Wade’s offer, he was living under a tarpaulin, but still he applied and got through a tough interview selection process.

"It's true that Senegal is not that much better off than Haiti," he told PA news service. "But our educational system was rocked by the earthquake. It's in a precarious state. I think it will be better for me here ... and I had no idea that they would do all of this for us."

Some in Senegal have criticised the gesture, pointing out that its own students can sometimes go six months without seeing their scholarship payments.

But others say that Senegal's poverty is the very reason it should be help Haiti.

Hayley attribution