03/12/2022, 17.32
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Argentina also to take in Ukrainian refugees, hosted by Ukrainians who fled 80 years ago

by Silvina Premat

The children and grandchildren of those who arrived in South America at the time of the Second World War are gearing up to help their compatriots 13,000 kilometres away. Like Brazil, Argentina has agreed to grant humanitarian visas. Rev Miraz Piczaka, pastor of the Orthodox parish in Berisso, said that his community is holding ecumenical prayers and collecting aid for those fleeing war.

Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) – Faced with the humanitarian disaster caused by war, Brazil and Argentina are the first Latin American countries to offer facilities to receive refugees; however, their governments are keeping a balance between condemnation and neutrality with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although reception and accommodation facilities have not yet been set up, local Ukrainian communities are expected to host refugees. In both countries, Ukrainian immigration goes back more than a century.

At the request of the Ukrainian embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentinian authorities will grant three-year humanitarian visas, at no cost, to Ukrainians who wish to enter the country as refugees after which they can apply for permanent residence. The measure applies to Ukrainian migrants and their immediate families, regardless of their nationality. Brazil adopted a similar step in early March but only for two years.

For its part, the Argentine Congress plans to examine a request by the Argentinian President to set up a programme called the "Argentina-Ukraine Fraternity Bridge". In addition to facilitating the arrival and settlement of Ukrainian refugees in Argentina, the project would have the authorities organise flights from Ukraine, about 13,000 km from Argentina, through the state airline, plus offer temporary economic aid to those who need it.

The plan includes sponsorships through different organisations, public or private, taking charge of refugee reception and accompaniment during the settlement process, a request to lawmakers made by Ukrainian groups in Argentina.

“Bringing relatives to the country is very expensive, not only because of the airfare, but also because of entry fees,” Congresswoman Graciela Lena told AsiaNews. She tabled a proposal that has the support of about 40 Members of Congress.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Gabriel Miraz Piczaka, pastor at the United Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Berisso, Buenos Aires province, said that 3,000 Ukrainians live in that town, 98 per cent Argentinians with Ukrainian parents or grandparents.

“My mother is Ukrainian and she was seven years old when she came to Argentina with my grandparents and six other refugees because of the Second World War,” said Fr Piczaka, who remembers when, in his youth, the parish he now leads welcomed victims of the Chernobyl explosion.

Rev Miraz Piczaka noted that taking families in Argentina "will surely rest on local Ukrainian communities”. The clergyman sits on the board of directors of the Ukrainian Association Renacimiento (Renaissance). Founded in 1933, it has about 3,000 members.

“Notwithstanding my difference of opinion with Argentina's policy vis-à-vis Russia, I cannot fail to observe that the government’s humanitarian gesture is based on the deep-rooted concept that Argentina is a melting pot of races.”

While mentioning that he has relatives in Ukraine, Miraz Piczaka also noted that the community has held Masses and taken part in ecumenical prayers, as well as collected various objects –blankets, warm clothes, first aid material and more for transfer to refugee centres in Ukraine or Poland, paid by the Ukrainian embassy in Argentina.

Another collection is underway in Buenos Aires, led by the Representación Central Ucrania en la República Argentina (Central Ukraine Representation in the Argentine Republic), a federation of about thirty associations of Ukrainians in Argentina.

Their first consignment of humanitarian aid will be ready next week for shipment to Warsaw by the Argentine White Helmets where they will be distributed. The federation is also vetting the possibility of helping potential refugees.

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