Last year five Syrian families, 42 people in total, were welcomed in Uruguay as refugees
They tell a CNN team their prospects haven't panned out, and government aid ends in a year
Uruguayan human rights minister says government is doing everything it can to help
The youngest ones already have learned conversational Spanish with a local accent. They have also made some friends in school.
When a CNN team arrives, a girl called Khitam grabs the microphone from the reporter and pretends to do an interview in Spanish with one of the boys.
“How are you doing in school?” Khitam asks. “Good” is the answer. They also seem to be adjusting well to the local culture. One of the teenage girls says she no longer wears the head covering know as hijab and is dating a local boy.
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But the parents of these Syrian children are not happy. Last year five Syrian families, 42 people in total, were welcomed in Uruguay as refugees. They were fleeing from war and violence in their native country. Two births in the past 12 months have increased their number to 44.
The government of the small South American nation provided for their needs and helped with resettlement. But now most of the adults complain that Uruguay is very expensive. They also say they’re afraid they won’t be able to make ends meet once the government aid runs out in a year.
The Syrian families gathered Tuesday at Independence Square, the main public space here in Uruguay’s capital. The square is in front of the Executive Tower, where the Uruguayan President’s office is.
Maher al Dees, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Uruguay last year with his wife and four children, said he is concerned about their financial future.
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“They’re giving us housing assistance for two years, but I’m afraid we’re going to be homeless at the end of this period,” Al Dees said, with the help of an interpreter. “They had promised they would help us indefinitely,”
Aisha al Mohamed, 18, another Syrian refugee who arrived in Uruguay with her mother, took courses to become a makeup artist but has yet to find a job. Al Mohamed said she likes life in Uruguay but her mother, Karima, a widow, is determined to return to Syria in spite of the conflict.
At least 7.6 million other people have been displaced inside Syria, according to the United Nations refugee agency. That means more than half of all Syrians have been driven from their homes by the war, which has killed more than 200,000 people.
“My mother doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t want to live here anymore. She wants to move back to the Middle East, maybe Lebanon or back to Syria,” al Mohamed said.
Uruguayan Human Rights Minister Javier Miranda said his government has done everything possible to help the families, even though the situation is not ideal. He said the story of a Syrian family who flew to Serbia in August only to be deported back to Uruguay for not having a visa has made the rest of the families fearful.
“I think it’s completely understandable if they say that they haven’t been able to adapt to life here in Uruguay and want to move to a different country,” Miranda said. “They have every right to leave if that’s what they want to do.”
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Representatives of the families were received by a government official at the President’s office after their protest and promised an answer to their demands and concerns within 48 hours.
“We would prefer that they wouldn’t protest and that they would sit down to have a conversation with us as we have done in the past. They can stay in the resettlement program,” Miranda said.
While the adults talk, the children keep on playing on the grass in Montevideo’s Independence Square. Khitam, the girl playing reporter, is still holding the microphone.
“Why did you come to Uruguay?” she asks a boy.
“Because they’re at war back home,” the boy answers.
“Do you like war?”
“Why are you here at the square?”
“Because we want to go back to Syria.”