The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Where Latin America Stands

Lead Photo: Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters
Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters
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Last week, heartbreaking pictures of Aylan Kurdi – the 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned and washed ashore a Turkish beach – shocked the world and became a symbol of the ongoing migrant crisis that has gripped Europe this summer. Fleeing war and poverty, hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily from Syria, have undertaken dangerous travel across the Mediterranean sea to seek asylum in Europe – and the death toll has been growing dramatically. The crisis has divided the union, with some countries like Hungary taking a decidedly unsympathetic stance, and building a border fence to try to keep migrants out.

But as European nations have taken heat in international opinion for how they’ve been handling the situation, some Latin American countries have been stepping up – and Uruguay has led the way. In May of last year, Mic reported that Uruguay’s famously humble ex-President José “Pepe” Mujica would open his summer home to 100 orphaned children, a home Yahoo described as “a mansion and riverfront estate surrounded by rolling pastures.” In October of 2014, Pepe personally welcomed 42 Syrian refugees at the Montevideo airport in October 2014, according to BBC Mundo, and another group of 80 Syrian refugees is expected to land in the country before the end of the year. Of course, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the crisis – and the transition hasn’t been as smooth as hoped for. Yesterday, five of the families granted asylum actually protested for the right to move elsewhere, citing difficulty settling in.

Imperfect as it may be, Uruguay’s actions – providing housing, health care, education and financial support for the refugees – have prompted other Latin American nations to step up. This week, reports surfaced that Brazil and Venezuela will both accept 20,000 Syrian refugees, Chile has also committed to accepting refugees, though President Michelle Bachelet didn’t specify a number. In fact, according to Yahoo, “Brazil has taken in more than 2,000 Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than any other country in Latin America.”

Britain, on the other hand, has given asylum to 20,000 refugees, but as the Daily Mail notes, after five years, they will have to reapply, meaning the stay may be temporary. Mic is particularly critical of the United States, who has not really done much because of strict immigration laws. In 2013, the U.S. admitted 31 Syrian refugees. By the beginning of this year, 135,000 Syrians had applied for asylum.

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters