World

Latin American nations open doors to Syrian refugees to help ease strain on Europe

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 17: Syrian refugees walk with their belongings to cross back to the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from Turkey, at the border crossing in Akcakale, on June 17, 2015 in southeastern Turkey.  Some hundreds of Syrian refugees  are returning to Tal Abyad from Turkey a day after Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG fighters evicted Islamic State group fighters from the area. According to the UNHCR, the Kurdish advance caused the displacement of about 23,000 people who fled into Turkey from the fighting in the past two weeks. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 17: Syrian refugees walk with their belongings to cross back to the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from Turkey, at the border crossing in Akcakale, on June 17, 2015 in southeastern Turkey. Some hundreds of Syrian refugees are returning to Tal Abyad from Turkey a day after Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG fighters evicted Islamic State group fighters from the area. According to the UNHCR, the Kurdish advance caused the displacement of about 23,000 people who fled into Turkey from the fighting in the past two weeks. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

As hundreds of thousands of refugees continue to stream into Europe to escape war-torn Syria, some governments from the other side of the world are joining the effort of providing housing, food and other basic supplies to the displaced families.

Countries throughout Latin America are opening their doors to refugees, even though support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is pretty much split throughout much of the region.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said last week that his country would accept 20,000 refugees from Syria, even as the socialist leader reiterated his support for the embattled al-Assad – calling him "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," Maduro said, according to the Guardian.

Brazil, which has a large Syrian and Lebanese immigrant population, has been the main destination in the region for refugees since the conflict in the Middle Eastern nation began. More than 2,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the country since 2013, thanks to a humanitarian visa program that gives Syrians the right to apply for refugee status once they are in the country.

Neighboring Argentina has also created a visa program dubbed “The Syria Program” that offers permanent residence after three years, and the Chilean government said last week that it would take 100 families seeking refuge "to address the grave humanitarian crisis affecting thousands of Syrian citizens."

In October of last year Uruguay resettled five Syrian families who had been living in refugee camps in Jordan, but last week they staged a protest outside the Uruguayan presidential palace saying they want to leave the Southern Cone nation because the cost of living there is too high.

Despite these complaints, another 80 refugees are expected to arrive in Montevideo, the country’s capital, by the end of the year.

One country that remains on the fence is Mexico. While the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto said last week it is studying the possibility of accepting refugees from Syria, there’s a major outcry – both from the halls of the country’s senate and from the public – to allow in Syrian migrants.

Mexican Senator Ernesto Cordero Arroyo led a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week in pressuring Peña Nieto to allow Syrian refugees into the country, saying that Mexico can’t "remain indifferent to what is happening in Syria and to the suffering of so many people."

The legislative support comes after more than 172,000 people have so far signed a petition on Change.org to pressure Peña Nieto and Foreign Affairs Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu to allow 10,000 Syrians refugees into the country.

"We are following this and working on studying the possibility of accepting some refugees at some point," said Ruiz Massieu last week.

"Our country has a long tradition of asylum," said Dallas-based lawyer Nelson Olavarrieta, who launched the campaign, told the Global Post. "The generation of Spanish that were received in the late 1930s (during the Spanish Civil War) and made Mexico their home, have made the country greater."

While there is no official refugee program in place, non-government organization The Habesha Project is spearheading an initiative to give 30 Syrian refugees currently in Jordan camps the opportunity to finish their studies at some Mexican universities. The refugees will be granted student visas, full scholarships, health insurance, a monthly stipend for the duration of their studies in Mexico.

The moves to accept refugees in Latin America come as European nations begin to struggle to deal with the surge of Syrians entering their country.

Greece, the European entry point for more than 200,000 migrants this year, has been so overwhelmed that it can't even provide basic services like housing and food. Italy's reception conditions are also straining under a constant stream of sea arrivals from North Africa, while Hungary's hostility toward migrants jolts them to get out of the country as soon as they can.

Most are aiming to reach wealthier countries in northern Europe, particularly Germany and Sweden, which stand out for their efforts to offer a generous welcome. However, German authorities say the expectations of people arriving are sometimes unrealistic.

"Germany isn't just the country of milk and honey, where everything you would want flies into your mouth like a fried pigeon," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Shaefer said last week.

EU rules require member states to ensure "a dignified standard of living" for asylum-seekers. That includes housing, food, clothing, a daily allowance, and access to public health care, education and the job market while their claim is processed, which can take up to a year or more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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