Buenos Aires’ warm welcome for Syrian refugees
by Silvina Premat

The South American country is a popular destination for those who want to escape the war in Syria with their entire family. The work of the Catholic community and Christian-inspired NGOs. A response to the call of Pope Francis. Migrants thank the Argentine people for their humanity.

Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) - Emigrating from Syria and adapting to a totally different country was not easy for Fadi Ali. A native of the city of Latakia, he marks five in Argentina in March where he is both "happy and very grateful": next month he will in fact obtain Argentine citizenship. He is a "forced migrant". This is the term used by local volunteers from non-governmental organizations working to welcome Syrians, whom others call "refugees".

Fadi and his wife decided to leave Syria after living in the midst of the war for almost a decade. Fadi had a good job, but the fear of losing a loved one in a bomb blast was stronger. "Afterwards you can't get them back and it goes without saying that we should have done this or that," the Syrian refugee, an agricultural engineer who is now director of a textile company in Buenos Aires, where he lives with his family, told AsiaNews.

He and his wife chose a country so distant and unknown because it allowed them to emigrate with their two small children. "Leaving them alone was not an option for me - remembers Fadi - as many of my compatriots do who go to a European state, settle down and then do all the paperwork to bring their families. It takes years. I couldn't leave my family in Syria; I wanted us to go away all together and the other nations would not allow it”.

Thanks to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who acted as intermediaries, and to a community that welcomed them in Buenos Aires, the difficulties of integrating Syrian migrants were less than usual.

"In the beginning - says Fadi - it is very difficult because you leave everything, your family and your memories, and because you do not know the language, the country and the people". He explains that for the first months he communicated in English and then took an intensive Spanish course and was also able to work as an interpreter in the government program to welcome Syrians.

This program is called "Programa Syria”, but all of its outcomes are not always happy ones. Several religious-inspired NGOs then started networking and two years ago made it possible to replicate in Argentina the “community patronage”, a collaborative model launched in Canada and adopted today in many European countries. It facilitates the interaction between international organizations, government programs and civil society groups that care for migrants and refugees.

Among the most active entities are the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the Amal Foundation, Youth with a Mission (of Baptist Christians) and Manos Abiertas, an apostolic work linked to the Society of Jesus. The evangelicals took on a request that in the strictest sense was not aimed at them: the appeal launched in 2015 by Pope Francis to European Catholics to welcome those who "flee death from war and famine".

Collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has enabled these and other humanitarian groups to welcome a dozen Syrian families to Argentina.

Volunteers accompany and assist migrants from the airport until their integration into society. Administrative and managerial work is complicated, it takes time and energy. “It's the hardest part, but everyone does it as a service, as part of the mission. The best thing is to be with families”, says Marta Irigoy, leader of Manos Abiertas.

International and local restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have delayed the departure for Argentina of another dozen Syrian families. This has raised the expectations of those waiting for their arrival: “Ours is a mustard seed” - says Irigoy. “A grain that can have enormous significance for migrants”.

Fadi Ali testifies to this. From a Muslim family, he does not practice any religion: "I have my own way of communicating with God". He adds that in the midst of a conflict like the one in Syria, faith can be lost. It is because of the sadness of all that one is forced to see; something that prompts you to ask yourself: "Where is God?".

Fadi says at one point he thought that he was alone in this world. “When I arrived in Argentina, however, I saw that there are still human beings, there are people who care about others, who have the ability to love and help. For me, God is not much more than that. It is pure love between us. It is care for others. It is feeling the pain of the other even if there are no family relationships or languages ​​in common. When we arrived there was no way to communicate, but the love they showed us, the patience they had for us was a great motivation".

As a form of gratitude, Fadi wrote and gave the nun who welcomed him and his family to Argentina a prayer inspired by his experience:


My Lord,

I searched for you for a long time with empty eyes and a closed heart.

I have looked for you everywhere and in every dark corner of this life. In the frightened eyes of those who have no home and who have no hope. I have tried to hear your voice in the sounds of war and the cries of the oppressed.

I've been so close to losing you forever ... but I finally found you. Not in a large mosque or a fancy church.

I found Your light shining in the hearts of those people who now surround me.

My Lord,

you found me while I spent my life looking for you in other places. May Your glory shine in the hearts of those who live in darkness.

May Your Holy Name give peace to those who have lost everything.

May Your Holy Name bless this place and those who have given us hope and prove that humanity will ultimately triumph.