It may at first appear an unorthodox choice, but for many of the estimated three million refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War, Latin American countries are becoming increasingly popular resettlement destinations. While the new language and culture prove a challenge, lax immigration laws and aid programs are attracting a greater number of Syrians every day.
Foreign Policy highlights the trend in an extensive piece looking at the number of refugees traveling from Syria to Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, among other South American nations. The move can prove daunting to many Syrians; they do not know the language or culture and, while aspiring to move to Europe or the United States, may have the impression that Latin America boasts less opportunity and more violence.
The numbers are, in fact, still low, but they are much higher than many estimate. Foreign Policy estimates that about 6,000 of the three million Syrian Civil War refugees are currently in Latin America. Of these, Brazil has issued 4,200 visas for entry and honored 1,425 requests for refugee asylum. The number makes Syrians the largest refugee population behind Colombians fleeing the violence of Marxist terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Other nations have numbers in the hundreds: Uruguay will receive 130 refugees this year, while Argentina has received 300 families.
Colombia, meanwhile, has taken in every Syrian refugee who has requested to stay. The perfect score seems easier to keep when noting that Colombia has only received 19 such requests. Mohammed, a Syrian refugee in Colombia, tells Foreign Policy that Colombian immigration officials “asked so few questions and everything was easy.”
Meanwhile, in Uruguay, socialist President José Mujica looks to continue his transformation from leftist terrorist into leftist icon by using the Syrian refugees to improve his image abroad. Foreign Policy notes that many see Uruguay’s refugee program as “self-serving,” with one columnist wryly noting that Mujica’s foreign policy is based exclusively on “President José Mujica’s aspirations of winning the Nobel Prize for Peace and the desire of Foreign Minister Luis Almagro to become secretary general of the OAS [Organization of American States].” Unlike nations like Colombia, which boasts a robust Middle Eastern and Muslim population, Uruguay does not have so much as an official mosque.
The news may, nonetheless, come as a relief to many Syrians attempting to flee as other nations close their doors. Lebanon, in particular, has begun experiencing a backlash to the outpouring of displaced people living in their country. The Lebanese government estimates they have taken in about two million people from the neighboring country, with many living in nomadic camps; this is proving problematic for many in both the native and Syrian populations.
Initially, few appeared to consider Latin America an option. However, as Argentine news outlet Infobae reports, Latin America–like North America–has a long history of taking in refugees and immigrants. Latin America was a particularly popular destination for those fleeing the 1936 Spanish Civil War and people of all backgrounds leaving Europe during World War II.