A single image did what thousands of stats couldn’t. The picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body, one of 12 Syrians who drowned in a failed attempt to reach the Greek Island of Kos, shook the world and forced us all to engage in the much-needed debate about the refugee crisis.
So, even though this topic has complete monopoly of the media and public opinion at the moment, and you probably know what Aylan’s story is all about, let’s do a small recap and then put in context what Argentina’s role in the situation could be.
A PICTURE THAT DEPICTS THE SUFFERING OF MILLIONS
Much like other emblematic pictures throughout history, the photo of a Syrian child’s body washed up on the Turkish shore put a face to millions of people fleeing conflicted areas in the Middle East — mostly Syria — and Africa.
Aylan Kurdi was traveling in one of two boats carrying 23 people from the Turkish Bodrum Peninsula to the Greek Island of Kos, considered one of the safest ways to get to the European Union.
“Abdullah [Aylan’s father] paid €4,000 for his family to get on a 5-meter-long dinghy from Bodrum to Greece,” Al Aan TV journalist Jenan Moussa reported. “He borrowed money. This was not their first attempt to get to Greece.”
The boat started taking in water only 500 meters away from the shore and capsized after one hour.
A few hours later, photojournalist Nilufer Demir captured the image.
ARGENTINE MEDIA REACTS
The raw quality of the image sparked controversy regarding whether it was acceptable and decent to publish it. Most Argentine outlets decided it was necessary to do so and explained why.
The relatively close distance between Syria and Europe makes the old continent a prime destination for refugees eager to leave the war-torn country. However, Argentina does have a Visa program for those who would like to enter the country.
On October 22, 2014, the Foreign Ministry established the Syria Program, which offers a two-year asylum to Syrian citizens escaping the sociopolitical situation in their country.
To be able to stay in Argentina, they must have a sponsor willing to receive them. The program also allows Palestinian citizens and other people who have lived in Syria and received aid from the UN’s Agency for Palestinian refugees.
According to official statistics provided by the customs office, 201 Syrians held the refugee status in Argentina until 2014.
“Argentina has an important Syrian-Lebanese community,” the decree reads. “They have strong ties and have often proved their solidarity with those who suffer the consequences of the current conflict taking place in Syria, and expressed their interest in joining the reception and integration process of those who benefit from this special program.”
There are 3.5 million Arabs currently living in the country, most of them who have either Syrian or Lebanese ancestry.
Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández assured it’d be “simple” to receive refugees and said “Argentina is extremely well recognized for dealing with these sorts of situations.”
However, the most difficult part is crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
A LITTLE HELP COMING FROM CORDOBA
According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), there are more than 12 million Syrians currently displaced from their homes.
Mayor Diego Bechis of the city of Pilar in Córdoba launched an initiative to offer shelter to 50 Syrian families and grant them the status of refugees, and stated he had already set the wheels in motion to bring them in, whether through international organizations or Argentina’s own Air Force.
Bechis explained the region has available fields where families could settle and said they would be assisted in finding jobs. He confirmed he had sent a letter to the UN expressing his willingness to receive fleeing families.