November 23, 2017

Amnesty Int’l says ‘good intentions’ are not enough

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NGOs criticize gov’t inaction over Syrian refugees

A man stands inside a "Syrian house", which is part of an Amnesty International art installation to raise awarness of the conflict in Syria, at a subway station in Buenos Aires, yesterday.

NGOs say administration is moving slowly as provincial volunteers lead current efforts

Amnesty International yesterday called on Argentina to take concrete steps to deliver on its promised plan to welcome Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s civil war. President Mauricio Macri has said he intends to allow more than 3,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the country, but so far the plan has stalled.

NGOs and members of the Argentina’s Syrian community yesterday demanded the government stick to its word.

“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.

The rights organization yesterday displayed a replica of a Syrian home in a busy subway stop of the Argentine capital. Images of bombings were projected on screens on its windows in an effort to call attention to the more than four million Syrians who have sought refuge abroad since civil war erupted in 2011.

World leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York this week will discuss the fate of the world’s 65.3 million displaced people at the first summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.


Syrian Nairouz Baloul, newly arrived in Argentina, believes that Macri can make the government’s stated plan to receive 3,000 of her compatriots fleeing the war a reality, but civil society organizations fear that the project will end up capsizing.

“If they have the key, they should not hesitate to open the door,” so that other refugees are given “the chance of a new life,” the 29-year old told the Associated Press when asked what she would say to the president if she had the chance.

Baloul is from the city of Latakia and has lived with her brother Ibrahim in Buenos Aires for a month, where she teaches English to earn a living. Their other brother died in the Syrian civil war.

Amnesty has warned the government to keep its committment to receive 3,000 Syrian refugees as promised by the government of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2014, and believes that what the current government has done so far is to prolong the process.

The plan makes the entry of Syrians easier if they are received by families, while organizations help with finding housing and work for the new arrivals.

Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra reaffirmed the government’s committment to the project but stressed recently that “it will not happen over night.”

“We are working with the (various) provinces to make sure this comes to pass,” she said in an interview with Radio Continental.

Malcorra also indicated that the government is “expanding the plan” launched by Fernández de Kirchner’s government by “working with other associations, churches and other possibilities to make this trickle of refugees coming in into something more substantial,” she said.

While the wait for the government to finalize the project in concrete terms goes on, dozens of Argentine families have expressed their desires to receive refugees. One of them is that of Mariano Winograd, a wholeseller of fruit and horticultural produce who hosts a newly married, young couple at his home outside of the capital and who leads the Argentine NGO Humanitarian Refuge.

He explained that his personal experience gave birth to “nodes” of people from provinces across the country that have articulated their intention to receive Syrians. So far, there are 19 registered hosts signed up on the organization’s website.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself... We voted in a government that’s called Let’s Change, it is not called ‘Let’s Freeze’” he said of what he considered excessive prudence from the presidency regarding the specifics of the programme.

Winograd works with the Argentine priest David Fernández, based in Aleppo, who sends information to him about families eager to escape the war. Catholic organizations have operated in and out of Argentina to lend a hand in this regard.


According to Tandeter, the expectation now is that various states who have said they will help re-settle Syrian refugees will “establish or expand resettlement programmes,” that allow for genuine integration.

The Amnesty head warned, however, that “what Argentina is proposing is something else—it is to outsource this responsability” to citizens, who will “act as the primary recipients of Syrians,” she said. “The excuse of economic constraint is not valid,” she added in response to reports that the country expects to receive financial support from Western nations in order to carry out the plan.

Baloul is one of the 350 people who have arrived in Buenos Aires after enduring a slow period of transition through a cumbersome bureaucratic process with the Syria programme.

In the province of San Luis, in the west, some 40 families have expressed their willingness to receive Syrians, lawmaker Luis Lusquiños told AP.

Tamara Lalli meanwhile, of the Syrian Cultural Association, said the prevailing perception is that “the project to bring 3,000 people will be anchored to the Syria Programme,” which has already seen the reception of several hundred people, and with more arriving slowly.

The National Migration Director, Horacio García, said days ago that “we have received 150 requests over the last month that are already being processed and the conditions verified to make sure that the Syrians arrive.” He added that the “the idea” was “not that there is a massive arrival of Syrians or mass resettlement programme” but rather “a system that allows for the fluid arrival of migrants.”

Similarly the government said that it will expedite procedures for the entry of those fleeing war and provide assistance in education and health to newcomers. It has also admitted that it is important to gain the approval of the security and intelligence forces in order to be able to expand the number of admissions.

Herald with AP

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