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The Argentine government is debating its plan to welcome Syrian refugees into the country. Last month while in Washington, DC, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña announced that in solidarity with the wishes of the Pope and Washington DC as well as in line with the overall Argentine spirit, the country would be welcoming 3,000 refugees into Argentina and “be part of the solution to a global problem.”

That declaration is now being put to the test as the nation works out how exactly it would support the influx of immigrants, primarily because there is no existing infrastructure with which to support the refugees.

Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra is a vocal supporter of accepting refugees from abroad, which some say may due in part to her bid to become UN Secretary General. On World Refugee Day, she spoke to an international audience of “collective responsibility.” “We know it’s not an easy decision and many people wonder whether Argentina can now meet this challenge,” she said. “We have to push to solve the basic problems of all people and return to the sources, to basics, so that people can return home.”

But not all are so convinced of her plan and appeal for foreign aid. An unnamed government source told La Nacion that, “We do not want Europe to use us to send refugees and involve us in a problem that they cannot afford.” Meanwhile, the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) is concerned that it does not have the resources to follow the background check protocol on incoming refugees, cryptically noting “serious problems of identity.”  

It has now become clear that the Interior Ministry, with its limited budget, shares these very concerns. And though supporters in the Argentine government appear to be relying on the support the US and the EU, the only comment from the US embassy in Buenos Aires on the matter was noncommittal: “We welcome the gesture by the government of Argentina to receive Syrian refugees to establish themselves in the country.”

The director of Migrations Horacio García succinctly summed the concerns this week: “We have to be organized,” he said. “This plan of aid to refugees is a great challenge but we must build teams and work together to save lives.” In other words, those with expertise on the matter hope that such good intentions are backed up by a plan and that refugees are not welcomed into Argentina and then left to fend for themselves and possibly fail. The message is clear: their safety and human rights are not guaranteed just because they have crossed a border.

Malcorra visits with refugees. Image via
Malcorra visits with refugees. Image via

According to statistics provided by La Nación, there are some 1,000 Syrian refugees currently in the country. The only support in place is called the Syria Program, which grants them humanitarian visas as long as they can prove there is someone in the country to help pay their expenses. It offers no other help. In general, integration is supported by programs and help from the existing Arab community and Christians.

Adalbert Assad, the president of the Islamic Arab Argentine Association — one of the organizations that provides such support — is dubious of the government’s capacity to provide necessary programs for 3,000 more refugees. “There is a need to assess well who will be receiving them, how they’ll integrate society, who is going to educate and give them work.”

These concerns were echoed by Argentina’s Amnesty International Director of International Policy and Justice, Leah Tandeter, who was interviewed by The Bubble earlier this month: “They have to understand that it doesn’t end with the gesture of bringing them to the country, but they also have to make sure they get to assimilate.” Namely, she said, the government should provide easier access to language classes and develop avenues to recognize Syrian  degrees and professional qualifications so immigrants can work here in Argentina in their fields of expertise.

Argentina’s government is historically and constitutionally quite welcoming of migrants and refugees. This was codified in 2004 with the ratification of Law 25.871, which states that, “migrants of all kinds, especially refugees, will be accepted regardless of the current status and availability of the necessary paperwork.” Hopeful words for a nation of a refugees: more than 50 percent of Syria’s population is currently displaced — with 4.5 million refugees ‘residing’ in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.