The 42 Syrian refugees granted asylum in Uruguay are staging a sit-in before the office of the President in Montevideo, accusing the government of lying to them about economic opportunity and demanding to return to Lebanon.
“They told us this country was cheap, and it’s expensive. Money is not enough. There’s no work,” said the head of one of the five families making up the total refugee population, Ibrahim Ashebli. While the refugee families, who have been in Uruguay since October 2014, receive economic support from the government and were provided with homes, health care, and public schooling for their children, most of those interviewed expressed the same concerns about their economic welfare.
“There is no future here for us,” argued Ibrahim Al Mohammed, “The government aid plan lasts two years and one has already passed… I have a wife and three children: how am I going to make a living when the aid runs out?” “We did not leave the war to die in poverty,” added Maher el-Dis, another head of one of the five families.
The families are demanding a return to Lebanon, and vow to sleep in front of Independence Plaza, where the offices of the President of Uruguay are, until they are provided flights home. “Living in Lebanon was better than here,” explained Maher Aldees, adding, “We don’t want Brazil, we don’t want the United States– we want Lebanon.” Lebanon has taken in an estimated 1.5 million Syrians, and while it does not boast official refugee camps, many are quartered in impoverished makeshift facilities. Lebanon is home to more refugees per capita than any other country in the world.
Uruguayan newspaper El Observador cites an Uruguayan convert to Islam as proposing that the dramatic cultural and religious differences are likely impacting the refugees’ decision to protest. “Culturally, this is a different world,” explained the man, who was not identified by name, adding he did not believe Uruguay “was prepared” to take in Syrians.
Uruguayan officials have responded to the protest with some sympathy. “I understand them,”Javier Miranda, head of Uruguay’s Human Rights Secretariat, told the Associated Press. “They realize that leaving Uruguay is very hard and that creates a great deal of insecurity.”
Uruguay is expected to continue forward with its plan to take in an additional 72 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, all currently in Lebanon. “We know it obviously costs money. But I appeal to the sensibility and solidarity of Uruguayans to understand the drama being lived by these families — a true hell on Earth,” said Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa upon announcing the plan to accept more.
Uruguay had temporarily halted its refugee plan earlier this year, after first refusing to accept any more male Syrian refugees due to a surge in domestic violence incidents. It stopped accepting Syrian refugees entirely in March, before announcing a new plan to take more in.
The growing media coverage surrounding the migrant crisis engulfing Europe– largely fueled by the chaotic Syrian Civil War– has prompted other Latin American nations to follow in Uruguay’s footsteps. This week, Venezuela announced it would accept 20,000 refugees, while Brazil and Chile announced authorities were conducting research to figure out what the most number of refugees they would be able to take in would be.