Latin America responds to Syria refugee crisis
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Latin America responds to Syria refugee crisis

The Syrian refugee crisis isn’t new–at least nine million Syrians have fled their homes between March 2011, when civil war erupted in the country, and October 2014, according to the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute.

However, the sudden attention of Western media directed to the crisis and the massive number of Syrians who have continued to arrive in European countries, seeking refuge in recent months, have underscored the social and political tolls of what is being referred to as the most acute refugee crisis in modern times.

While Europe struggles internally to determine how it will share the responsibility for incorporating the Syrian refugees into their own societies, other private entities and governments around the globe are beginning to discuss their own roles in helping cope with the crisis.

A Latin American reception

Latin American leaders are stepping up to the plate, offering their support and vowing to help resettle refugees. In fact, many of them have been doing so for well over a year.

Last March, former Uruguayan president, the popular Pepe Mujica, welcomed a small number of Syrian refugees to his country, and Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela are among the other Latin American nations that have pledged to accept a varying number of refugees.

Brazil and Venezuela have both said they will welcome up to 20,000 Syrians. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, called the refugee crisis a “tragedy for all of humanity,” though she has not yet offered a precise estimate for the number of refugees the country is prepared to take in.

Mexico, for its, part, intends to welcome a small number of Syrian students as part of Proyecto Habesha, whose organizers describe it as a “neutral, not-for-profit, non-political, and non-faith based international Mexican-led humanitarian initiative aimed at sending a message of solidarity to the Syrian nation.”

While up to 30 students are expected to be admitted to the country, visas have not been issued and a specific arrival date has not been publicized.

Mixed feelings

The effort to participate in the global response to the refugee crisis is not without problems and critics. The Syrians who were accepted into Uruguay by Mujica last year have been unhappy with their resettlement plan, and are currently protesting in front of the president’s Executive Tower, demanding that they be allowed to leave Uruguay to settle in Lebanon.

Members of five families say the Uruguayan government was not truthful with them, promising salaries higher than those they have received, among other deceptions. They have neither passports nor money to return to Lebanon, however, and are awaiting a government decision-expected this week-about their immediate fates.

Similarly, Argentina’s plan has been critiqued because it permits Syrian refugees to live in the country for up to two years only. While they may then apply for a one-year extension, the lack of a long-term strategy is unlikely to be useful beyond the acute crisis.

See also:

In Uruguay, a backlash against Syrian refugee programs

Uruguay ex-president says Syrian refugees not capable of farm work