January 18, 2010 / 11:01 AM / 10 years ago

Senegal offers land for "returning" Haitians

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal and other African nations should offer victims of Haiti’s earthquake the chance to resettle in the continent, possibly in a newly created state of their own, the West African nation has urged.

People walk along a debris-covered street in Port-au-Prince January 17, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

“Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right. There is nothing to haggle about,” President Abdoulaye Wade said on his website.

Television images of black, French-speaking Haitians in distress have touched a nerve across Francophone West and central Africa.

Wade said he would propose to the 53-nation African Union the creation for Haitians of “their own state on African territory, the land of their ancestors,” according to the text of his proposal published in local newspapers on Monday.

Local media quoted Senegalese officials as saying the country was ready to offer parcels of fertile land to Haitians, many of whom are still waiting for aid after Tuesday’s earthquake believed to have killed as many as 200,000.

The idea for a new state is reminiscent of the 19th century creation of Liberia by freed U.S. slaves. The West African country is currently recovering from a 1999 civil war and is hoping to benefit from recent oil discoveries off its coast.

Wade argued that Haitians are the descendants of slaves and so had the right to repatriation on the African continent. Senegal has also pledged $1 million emergency aid and begun preparations for televised fund-raising event.

The country of around 13 million straddles both the arid Sahel area and the lusher region around its southern border.

While one of the more stable countries in West Africa, it suffers high unemployment and acute deficiencies in basic infrastructure including roads and electricity supply.

Wade, 83, has long portrayed himself on the world stage as a defender of the poor, although his critics say that some of his schemes fail to live up to expectations.

Democratic Republic of Congo, which has just been told by the International Monetary Fund that its debt levels are fiscally unsustainable, pledged $2.5 million aid at the weekend.

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