By Jillian Zaleski
As of 2014, an estimation of 9 million Syrians have fled from their country since March 2011, when the civil war broke out, to take refuge in neighboring countries or in Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a little more than a third of those refugees have fled to Syria’s immediate neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Meanwhile, around 150,000 refugees have declared asylum in the European Union and member states have pledged to resettle another 33,000 Syrians, a vast majority of those resettlement spots taken up by Germany (85% to be exact).
Now it is 2015, and Germany and Syria’s neighbors are not the only countries helping these refugees. South America is welcoming refugees and providing them with a new life. Despite the international community wrestling to meet the demands of resettling Syrians- this being the largest wave of refugees since the Afghans in the 1990s- Argentina is one of the many countries receiving praises for their open door policy. While the process of integrating a new culture into communities is difficult, Michelle Alfaro, a Buenos Aires based official from the UNHCR says that while “finding adequate housing, health services, and… a way for new arrivals to support themselves is the greatest challenge,” it seems to be worth it. Forty-four year old refugee Haitham Assam used to be a customs official back in Syria but is now a middle class waiter in Argentina. While he is frustrated with assimilating into a new culture and learning a new language, he is still thankful to Argentina for accepting his family and says that he “like very much living here”.
South America only receives a fraction of the refugees but they are receptive nonetheless and is increasingly becoming a destination for refugees. This month Venezuela announced that they would be accepting 20,000 refugees, while Chile has agreed to accept 50 Syrian families. Uruguay, like Argentina, has installed programs to help the refugees that come their way and Brazil is home to around 2,000 Syrians.
Similar to South America, the United States only gets a small fraction of refugees compared to the Mid-Eastern and European countries. Only 1,500 refugees have actually entered America, small compared to the ten thousands and millions of migrants fleeing into Jordan and Lebanon. But these refugees still appreciate America, one refugee stated that in Syria “it’s too dangerous. At least here it’s safe for them [children] There’s no war… I want to stay here for my kids’… so they can go to school and learn.” Hopefully, more than 1,500 refugees will be able to voice this same hope as the U.S. Department of State seeks to increase the number of refugees brought into America. Many of these refugees are expected to end up in Michigan like their fellow Syrians, as Michigan has the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S. One Stanford University professor wrote an opinion piece in May for the New York Times, sparking the discussion about how the refugees could benefit the city. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder stated on Tuesday September 29 that he believed the refugees to be an asset in Michigan’s economy because some of them “were professionals; they were people who hired people and tend to create jobs”.
And then there are some countries such as Japan, who last year received 5,000 applications but only accepted eleven Syrians but provide aid packages. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insists that before Japan can help the refugees, they must first tackle their own crises posed by their falling birth rate and aging population, as well as continue to boost the number of women in the labor market. “It’s an issue of demography” Abe responded after his speech to UN general assembly, “…before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people, and we must raise our birth rate. There are many things we should do before accepting immigrants”. Abe also stated that, “Japan would like to contribute by changing the conditions that give rise to refugees. The cause of this tragedy is the fear of violence and terrorism, and terror of poverty. The world must cooperate in order for them to find a way to escape poverty.” Yet, Japan and other high income countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Russia have failed to help relieve the pressure on countries in the Middle East and Europe as they struggle to cope with the influx of people caught in the worst refugee crisis since WWII. For a country like Japan that is suffering a drop in population, wouldn’t allowing immigrants into their communities and work force strengthen it again?
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