Latin America joins effort to stem refugee crisis

MONTEVIDEO: As Europe struggles to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing bloody conflicts in Syria and beyond, far-away Latin America is increasingly stepping up pledges to take in refugees.


Far removed from the turmoil driving the exodus from the Middle East, Latin America has so far resettled a relatively small handful of people.

But as the influx reaches crisis levels in Europe, a string of Latin American countries are vowing to do more.

In the past two days, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to welcome Syrian refugees with “open arms,” Chile´s Michelle Bachelet declared her country´s “doors (are) open,” and Panama´s Juan Carlos Varela said his nation had a “big heart” and would gladly take in fleeing Syrians and Iraqis.

Even Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a staunch ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, vowed to welcome 20,000 Syrians — the only one of the recent resettlement pledges to give a hard number.

Brazil, the largest Latin American country, has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other — more than 2,000 since the rebellion against Assad´s regime began in 2011.

More than four million people have fled Syria since the war began, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Another 7.6 million have been internally displaced.

These people and others fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere are increasingly undertaking dangerous treks overland or across the Mediterranean to reach the European Union, triggering a crisis of historic proportions.

More than 380,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year, UNHCR said Tuesday.

The death of thousands — including a three-year-old Kurdish boy who washed up dead on a Turkish beach last week — has led to pleas for the rest of the world to do more.