Nearshore Americas

South America Steps Up to Help Syrians Fleeing War

Latin American countries are welcoming Syrians with ‘open arms’, while Europe is still debating whether to call the people fleeing the war in the Middle East “immigrants” or refugees.

In a video message this week, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has promised to welcome more refugees, although the South American country has already given shelter to thousands of Syrian refugees since the past one year.

Argentina and Uruguay have also created special programs to resettle Syrian refugees, while Chile is likely to provide shelter to at least a hundred families. Even Venezuela, reeling from an economic crisis following the sudden drop in oil prices, is preparing to receive 20,000 Syrians.

“Especially in these difficult times, these times of crisis, we have to welcome refugees with open arms,” Rousseff added.

According to reports, as many as 1,740 Syrian refugees have resettled in Brazil over the past two years. In 2014, Brazilian embassies located in Beirut, Lebanon, Amman, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey, processed the greatest number of asylum requests, according to the UNHCR.

In Chile, it seems, the local Arab community is persuading the government to offer shelter and support for Syrian refugees.

In her speech, Rousseff said she felt pain after she saw the picture of the lifeless little Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach that went viral last week and has since become a symbol of the migrant crisis.

“The image of the child, Aylan Kurdi, barely three years old, touched us all, and presented the world with a great challenge,” she said.

Uruguay was the first Latin American country to give the green light for Syrian refugees, but these days those who have resettled in the country are complaining that they are dying of poverty.

Under ex-president Jose Mujica, Uruguay agreed to take in 120 Syrian refugees. They were offered housing, healthcare, education and financial support. But, this week, some of these refugees staged a protest in front of the presidential palace to demand authorities help them leave for other countries, saying that Uruguay is too expensive and they have scant economic opportunity.

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The refugees do not have passports from their home country, nor could they get Uruguayan ones because they are not citizens.

Asylum-seekers are not new to Latin America. A wave of Spaniards fled to Latin America during the Spanish civil war and the Franco era, and many Jewish refugees settled in South America during and after the Second World War.

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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