By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet welcomed 66 Syrian refugees to the country on Thursday. Chile is the latest Latin American nation to offer safe harbor to families displaced by Syria’s civil war.

Fourteen Syrian families welcomed by President Bachelet. Image Courtesy of UNHCR.

The refugees were welcomed during a ceremony at the airport in the country’s capital, Santiago. President Bachelet and a UN Refugee Agency representative, Michele Manca di Nissa, greeted 14 families who were forced to flee their homes because of the Syrian civil war.

“We know you have struggled and what we hope is that, in our country, you will find a place to rebuild your lives,” Bachelet said.

The 34 adults and 32 children arrived from Lebanon last week. Chile plans to resettle them in two communities, Villa Almana and Macul. The families will be given furnished homes and social benefits such as monthly stipends, schooling, and healthcare. Each refugee will attend intensive Spanish-language classes to help them adjust to life in Chile. They will also have access to psycho-social professionals from Vicaría de Pastoral Social Caritas, the organization that will follow up and help them integrate.

These Syrian refugees went through a pre-departure orientation session with experienced trainers from the International Organization for Migration. These sessions prepared them for the initial period of resettlement by teaching them about life in Chile. They were provided accurate information to help them make realistic plans for the future.

Additionally, they will receive continued help to make sure they are settled in the community. The children will attend local schools and kindergartens starting in March next year. Also, the adults will receive help finding employment. Chile aims to make these families autonomous and self-sufficient as fast as possible. The host communities aims to facilitate their access to basic healthcare services and help them feel at home. Chile’s Syrian community is actively participating in supporting these refugees.

Chile extends this welcome as part of its refugee resettlement program in which it aims to resettle 120 highly vulnerable Syrian refugees from Lebanon. This program is supported by the UN and is being used in several other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. These nations have begun accepting refugees in small numbers in an effort to help the humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations reports that more than 2 million people fleeing wars and persecution have become refugees in 2017. The United States and several European countries have started to tighten their borders and implement more restrictive asylum policies.

Currently, Chile is home to 1,736 recognized refugees. Most of these refugees are from Colombia. Since 1999, Chile has resettled 480 refugees of various nationalities. Some of these resettled refugees have been able to obtain Chilean nationality.

For further information, please see:

UNHCR – Chile becomes latest country to resettle Syrian refugees – 13 October 2017 

IOM – Syrian Refugees Resettled in Chile under Migration and Refugee Agencies’ Programme – 13 October 2017

UN News Centre – Chile becomes latest nation to resettle Syrian refugees through UN-backed programme – 13 October 2017

U.S. News – Chile Welcomes More Than 60 Syrian Refugees – 12 October 2017

Author: Emily Green