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Latin American nations offer to take in Syria refugees

September 7, 2015

BRASÍLIA — Brazil will welcome Syrian refugees with “open arms,” President Dilma Rousseff said Monday, as various Latin American nations sought to help with the human tidal wave fleeing the war-torn country.

In a video message marking Brazil’s Independence Day, Rousseff said she wanted to “reiterate the government’s willingness to welcome those who, driven from their homeland, want to come live, work and contribute to the prosperity and peace of Brazil.”

“Especially in these difficult times, these times of crisis, we have to welcome refugees with open arms,” she added.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered his foreign ministry to take steps to receive 20,000 Syrians in the country.

Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, meanwhile, said her country also would be willing to accept refugees, without specifying a number or nationality.

“Throughout our history, we have always had our doors open to those, sometimes coming from far away places, bringing their history and cultural to the construction of our nation,” Bachelet said.

Leaders of Chile’s Arab community, which numbers around 300,000 people, approached the government recently with a plan to offer shelter and support to about 100 refugee families from Syria.

Brazil has taken in more than 2,000 Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than any other country in Latin America.

Currently, Syrians are the largest refugee group in Brazil. In 2014 alone, 1,405 were given refuge.

Two years ago, Brazil streamlined the process of taking in such refugees under a program originally set to end this month.

Attorney General Beto Vasconcelos, quoted in local media, reportedly said the government is considering extending the measure.

Rousseff also referenced the photo of a lifeless little Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach that went viral last week and has since become a symbol of the migrant crisis.

“The image of the child, Aylan Kurdi, barely three years old, touched us all, and presented the world with a great challenge,” she said.

European leaders are scrambling as bloody conflicts not only in Syria but also in Iraq and beyond send hundreds of thousands on dangerous treks through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to the 28-nation EU.

On Monday, Britain and France joined Germany in pledging to take in tens of thousands.

Editor’s note: An online petition was recently launched to urge Costa Rican authorities to take an active role in helping resolve the Middle Eastern and African refugee crisis. You can find the petition here (in Spanish). 

Read more coverage of Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis

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