As US closes doors to Syrian refugees, Argentina prepares a welcome

Argentina’s Esteban Bullrich, speaks, as Lorna Solis, of Blue Rose Compass, left, listens on. Photo: Amy Lieberman / Devex

Facing roadblocks in the United States, an international NGO that facilitates scholarships for refugees is turning to a potentially unlikely country partner: Argentina.

Blue Rose Compass announced that it will facilitate the university scholarships of 1,000 Syrian refugee young girls and women — ages 18 to 34 — over the next five years in Argentina, its CEO and founder Lorna Solis said on Friday at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Buenos Aires.

The scholarship recipients, now based mostly in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, will be granted humanitarian visas, making them eventually eligible for citizenship in Argentina.

“The needs are so great that we are going to have way more students applying than we have scholarships,” Solis told Devex in an interview, explaining that 500 potential applicants recently showed up at the huge Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan to learn more about the program, after they announced 30 scholarships. “They want to get out. That is the reality. Some of them do not necessarily want to go back to school, but they feel at least with school it is a pathway to get out.”

The press briefing at the forum came shortly before the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session to discuss the U.S. launching cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base Thursday night. The move was retaliation for the Syrian government’s latest chemical weapon attack, estimated to have killed more than 70.

Meanwhile, Argentine Minister of Education and Sports Esteban Bullrich reiterated the country’s commitment to host 3,000 additional refugees, who would also be admitted with humanitarian visas and able to resettle with their families.

Argentina first announced that it would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees in July 2016. In September, Amnesty International questioned stalled plans on this resettlement work, which has been described as “delicate” by national media.  

Just last month, Argentine President Mauricio Macri issued a decree that curbs immigration to the country, making it easier for the government to restrict and deny entry to foreigners.

While some Latin American countries have a long history of welcoming foreigners — Bolivia, for example, admitted approximately 40,000 Jewish refugees between 1938 and 1941 — some Latin American countries are not as open to immigration as they used to be. The region also has its own internal refugee and displacement crises: Colombia alone has nearly 7 million internally displaced people. Brazil has granted more than 8,000 Syrians humanitarian visas since 2013, even as the poor economic situation there has reportedly complicated their welcome. The continuation of this program, however, has become something of a question.

Following the implementation of President Donald Trump’s travel and refugee ban — now temporarily suspended by a court order — Blue Rose Compass redirected 30 American-bound refugee students to Germany.

The organization, which presently facilitates scholarships for more 540 students across 35 universities in the U.S., Germany, France, South Africa and China, will be looking to Canada as a model for implementing the new refugee scholarship program in Argentina, Solis says.

“We have to ‘Argentinize’ the program, because it is not Canada. It is Argentina,” she said.

But the program is likely to get inspiration from the Canadian universities that asked their students to “opt in” or “out” of paying $5 to support the cost of their new peers’ expenses, such as food. Most students choose to opt in. Argentine universities are on board with this idea, Solis said.

While the Argentinian government is going to cover the visas of the incoming students, the organization is still seeking private partnerships to help cover their travel and clothing, among other expenses.

The first 20 students will arrive this year, joined by the next 200 the following year.

The organization is also looking to Mexico as another new option for refugee students, as a coalition of 16 universities told Solis this week it would grant 200 scholarships to refugees from any country.

For everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum on Latin America, follow our coverage this week and join the conversation on Latin America's future. Follow @devex, @kellierin, @amylieberman and @raj_devex and tag #la17 and #wef.

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.