Whose Children are these? Senegal says 'not mine!' (40032)

Mar. 5 (GIN) – After a deadly fire at one of Senegal’s many Koranic schools that took the lives of seven children and injured 40, Senegal has announced it will deport foreign-born children housed at the schools to their home countries.

The blaze broke out at about 11 p.m. on Medina Street, Dakar, as 45 children aged from six to 14 slept inside a single room with wooden walls and zinc roofing in the Medina district, witnesses said.

A candle is thought to have caused the fire, which began late Sunday.

Most of the victims were from Guinea-Bissau. The children, known as talibes, study the Koran at schools with few amenities. They are often seen in the streets sent by their teachers begging for change, a practice that has drawn a few pious words of condemnation by officials every few years.

After visiting the scene, President Macky Sall said his government will soon begin arrangements with the authorities of the concerned countries to speed up the repatriation. Two children who survived the inferno last Sunday have been hospitalized with severe burns. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

The number of talibes is estimated to have climbed to over a million and it continues to grow due to a steady influx of children below the age of 12 from neighboring countries in conflict, especially Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mali.

The flood of refugee children, often deposited for safe-keeping at Koranic schools, increased with the outbreak of fighting in northern Mali.