Pressure on Argentina's Macri to keep vow on Syrian refugees
Posted September 20
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Nairouz Baloul escaped the civil war in her homeland to find refuge in Argentina. Now she hopes the South American nation will now welcome many more Syrians like her to begin a new life.
President Mauricio Macri has said he wants to allow more than 3,000 Syrian refugees into Argentina. But the plan has stalled, and organizations and members of Argentina's Syrian community are pressuring the administration to keep its promise.
"If he has the key to unlock this, I think he shouldn't hesitate to open the door to other human beings," said Baloul, 29, an English teacher who escaped what she calls a "living nightmare" in Syria.
One of her brothers was killed by a bomb in Damascus in 2014. She prefers not to speak about it, but since she arrived in Buenos Aires last month with another brother, she has become hopeful that the rest of their family will be able to join them in Argentina.
"I feel safe now, but I'm not totally happy because I want others to be safe as well," Baloul said.
Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said Monday that the government is fully committed to bringing in 3,000 Syrians, though a timeline has not been set.
"This will not happen from one day to the next," she said. "But we have a commitment because Argentina is a country of immigrants, of refugees, and it's unlikely that any of us doesn't have a grandfather, a great-grandfather who hasn't escaped a war, a famine."
"We believe this is the time to set an example," Malcorra said.
Officials have not explained the reasons for the delay, although Argentina's economy is in recession and Macri has faced unrest for cutting government spending.
While the government decides how to implement the plan, dozens of Argentine families have already volunteered to welcome Syrians into their homes.
Among them is Mariano Winograd, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler who received a young newlywed couple from Syria to his home earlier this year.
"I just want to give back what was given to my family," said Winograd, the son of Jewish immigrants who came to Argentina to escape World War II.
Winograd, the head of a local group known as Humanitarian Refuge, works closely with an Argentine priest based in Aleppo, Syria, who helps families desperate to escape one of that country's fiercest battlegrounds.
Amnesty International on Monday urged Argentina to implement a comprehensive plan for bringing in Syrian refugees.
The human rights group set up a replica of a Syrian home in a busy subway station in the Argentine capital. Images of relentless bombings were projected on screens in its windows in an effort to call attention to the more than 4 million Syrians who have sought refuge abroad since civil war erupted in 2011.
"I think the Argentine state has the good intention to help in this humanitarian crisis, but it is limited (by resources). But for us, the economic excuse is not valid," said Leah Tandeter, head of international justice for Amnesty International's local branch.
Macri and other world leaders were in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting on Monday to discuss the situation of the world's 65.3 million displaced people. The talks were held as the first summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.
Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.