Five families of Syrian refugees granted asylum in Uruguay last year are now demanding they be permitted to leave the South American country.
According to Reuters, the families protested outside the Uruguayan president’s offices in Montevideo, the country’s capital, Monday, demonstrating their desire to leave in search of better jobs, even back in the Middle East.
Uruguay accepted 42 Syrians fleeing the civil war in October 2014, but the families said they felt the government, led by president Tabaré Vázquez of the leftist Frente Amplio coalition, had failed to deliver on a promise of financial security.
“I’m not afraid to go back to Lebanon,” Aldees Maher, 36, whose family had initially sought solitude in a Lebanese refugee camp just across the Syrian border, told Reuters. “I want a place that guarantees me, my family a life.”
In Uruguay, a country with a minuscule Muslim population of approximately 300, known internationally for its secularism, liberal social laws and well-developed social security system, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book, refugees reportedly receive housing, health care, education and other social benefits from the government.
“I don’t have any way of getting a job to earn enough money and look after the family,” Maher added. “Before we came, the embassy told us we could earn $1,500 a month.”
Another refugee, Ibrahim Al Mohammed, who claims he cannot get by on 11,000 pesos (US$380) per month as a hospital worker, a salary just above Uruguay’s 10,000-peso minimum wage, told the Associated Press: “There’s no future for us here. The government’s aid plan lasts two years, and one has passed by […] I have a wife and three young sons. What will I do to earn a living when the help runs out.”
Responding to the concerns of the refugees, Javier Miranda, head of the human rights secretariat inside the presidency, made clear to Reuters: “If they want to go, they can. But it is not up to us whether another country allows them entry.”
The refugees carry an identity card and travel document, issued by the Uruguayan authorities, but other states can reportedly deny them entry.
According to Reuters, Maher and his family returned to Uruguay after being denied entry to Turkey. They spent 20 days in Istanbul’s airport before traveling back to Montevideo.
Since 2011, when the Syrian civil war broke out, more than 4 million Syrians have left the country, the United Nations reports. Another 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced internally, meaning that more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 22.4 million has been forced to abandon their homes by the fighting.
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