The Macri administration is preparing to receive 300 Syrian refugees in the next months, following its commitment made in June to the United States and the European Union to take in 3,000.
According to La Nación, the government organization in charge of making sure the process goes smoothly — called the “Syrian Table” — intends to send a team comprised of experts on immigration, intelligence agents and representatives from NGOs with ties to the Arab community to refugee camps in Lebanon to select eligible candidates.
“Taking into consideration terrorism issues and the risk of having people with fake passports on the border with Syria, we will take all necessary precautions to avoid taking in people who could be a threat to national security,” a source from the Casa Rosada told La Nación.
The Syrian Table is comprised of officials from the Security, Health, Labor Interior and Foreign Ministries, the National Commission for Refugees, the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) and representatives from NGOs with ties to the Arab Community.
Other members of the Table have also begun coordinating with the United States and several countries from the European Union how Argentina will receive logistical and financial support. In fact, La Nación reported that US Ambassador Noah Mamet yesterday hosted a meeting with a group of EU counterparts to outline the first steps.
While logistical support is key, the Macri administration is especially eager to arrange the financial details since, according to certain statements from Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra in March this year, the country will only be able to carry out the initiative if it gets external financing: “We are meeting with partners from different countries around the world because we’ll definitely need support in terms of logistics and financing to move forward with it,” said Malcorra during a UN meeting on the Syrian refugee crisis.
The refugees will get to the country through a government-approved protocol called the Syria Program. Instated during the Kirchner administration, the program grants Syrians humanitarian visas as long as they can prove there is someone in the country to help pay their expenses. However, since it offers no other help — integration is supported by programs and help from the existing Arab community and Christian groups — some have voiced concerns about the lack of infrastructure the country has to successfully carry out the initiative.
“They [the Macri administration] have to understand that it doesn’t end with the gesture of bringing them to the country. Today Argentina has a small refugee population who don’t enjoy special protection from the State, as there are no local assimilation programs. The country grants them refugee status, meaning they can legally live in the country, and gives them specific documentation that allows them to access public services, but that’s about it,” Amnesty International Director of International Policy and Justice, Leah Tandeter, told The Bubble in an interview in June. 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.
While we still don’t know if the financial help the US and EU will provide will help the government provide a better infrastructure to support the refugees, different NGOs have began doing their part: the Argentina Refugee Connection has set up a Facebook page for those wanting to get involved with welcoming the refugees upon their arrival. Help can be given in the form of:
- Bilingual Arabic-Spanish speakers
- Donations of clothing and household items
- Leads on jobs
- Spanish tutors
- Affordable accommodation that does not require a guarantee
According to La Nación, there are currently around 3,200 people who have refugee status in the country, 286 of whom are Syrians. From 2012 to 2016, the outlet says, Syria topped the charts in the country, followed by Colombia (156), Ghana (37), Ukraine (28), Haiti (27) and Cuba (19).
When it comes to Syrians, Argentina has a swift mechanism that grants them refugee status almost instantly. However, due to a lack of information, the distance between the countries or the high cost of flying from the Middle East, less than 400 people requested asylum in Argentina. All of them had it granted.