BUENOS AIRES (AP) – French President Francois Hollande suggested Wednesday that Argentina could take in some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing civil war.
The idea appeared to be an off-the-cuff comment during a news conference by Hollande and Argentine President Mauricio Macri after they met privately and signed agreements on issues ranging from fighting terrorism to increasing cultural exchanges.
Hollande lauded Argentina's history of receiving immigrants, mentioning Syrians and Lebanese who arrived in the South American nation decades ago.
Then, without referring to Argentina by name, he said through a translator that "we must make an effort wherever we are" to receive people in refugee camps in Jordan and Syria. With necessary controls implemented, refugees could be received in places with "existing communities from those countries that can help," he added.
As Hollande spoke, Macri didn't make any notable facial expressions. The two leaders then left.
It wasn't clear if the two had discussed the issue privately or if Argentina was contemplating taking in some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian's who have fled their country's civil war. Receiving refugees was not one of the agreements the two leaders mentioned.
Beginning in the early 20th century, Argentina took in thousands of Syrians and Lebanese, waves of immigrants that continued to come during times of turmoil in the Middle East. Carlos Menem, who was Argentine president in 1989-1999, was born to Syrian parents.
However, Argentina has not received many Syrian refugees in recent years. Since 2014, about 200 have come in under "Program Syria," according to immigration authorities. The program gives humanitarian visas for two years and appears to have mostly been used by Syrians with relatives in Argentina.
Hollande, who is on a tour of South America, planned to attend a ceremony Thursday paying tribute to victims of Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship. He also planned to meet with Estela de Carlotto, head of the human rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.