Venezuela to take 20,000 refugees while Chile offers home to 100 families, and Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have all accepted Syrian refugees
Latin American countries are opening their doors to Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country, as Europe struggles with a growing refugee crisis.
Chile and Venezuela have this week both offered to take in Syrian refugees , and Brazil said it would continue to welcome people escaping the country’s brutal conflict. Argentina and Uruguay have also created special programs to resettle Syrian refugees since the war started in 2011.
Chile’s government said on Tuesday that it would take 100 families seeking refuge “to address the grave humanitarian crisis affecting thousands of Syrian citizens”.
“The decision has already been made by the president and it will happen as soon as possible,” said the foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz.
On Monday, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said that his country would accept 20,000 refugees from Syria – while at the same time reiterating his support for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as “the only leader with authority in Syria”.
“I want 20,000 Syrians to come, Syrian families to our Venezuelan homeland to share this land of peace, this land of Christ, and of Bolívar, to work with us and to contribute to … the development of this magic land,” proclaimed Maduro.
The figure cited by Maduro is just over the estimated 18,000 Colombian nationals who have fled Venezuela since mid-August after a wave of deportations of undocumented migrants there.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, said she wanted to “reiterate the government’s willingness to welcome those who, driven from their homeland, want to come live, work and contribute to the prosperity and peace of Brazil. Especially in these difficult times, these times of crisis, we have to welcome refugees with open arms.”
Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, has been the main destination for Syrians seeking refuge in the region, with more than 2,000 Syrians granted asylum in the country since the start of the Syrian conflict.
Brazil, which has a large Syrian and Lebanese immigrant population, launched a humanitarian visa programme in 2013 for those affected by the Syrian conflict which gives people the right to apply for refugee status once they are in the country.
Argentina’s “Syria Programme” created special humanitarian visas for Syrians fleeing the conflict, offering permanent residence after three years.
Uruguay resettled five Syrian families who had been living in refugee camps in Jordan in 2014. They were offered housing, healthcare, education and financial support from the government, but a year later, the 42 Syrians now want to leave.
In a protest staged in front of the presidential palace this week, they complained that the country is too expensive and that they have not been able to find jobs. Nonetheless, another group of 80 Syrian refugees is expected to land in the country before the end of the year.
Latin America has a history of taking in immigrants and asylum-seekers from across the world. 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. By the late 20th century, it was Latin America that was producing refugees fleeing civil wars, dictatorships and hardship.
Javier Miranda, director of human rights of the Uruguayan presidency, has said that accepting Syrian refugees is the region’s way of “repaying its debt to the world”.
The Guardian | Sibylla Brodzinsky