Since the Syrian civil war began to flare in 2011, more than 2 million Syrians have fled the country in order to seek refuge and safety. Most of the refugees — about 1,130,000 of them — have relocated to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Other countries are granting immigration visas, humanitarian visas or loosening up their asylum grants in order to aid the cause.
José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has taken the cause into his own hands. He has decided to not only open up his country, but also his very home to 100 Syrian orphans, all put in their current position by the conflict. Although this appears to be an unusual and bold move, Mujica is the right man to execute it.
José Alberto Mujica Cordano spent the 60’s and 70’s as a member of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, where he was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, only being released when Uruguay returned to a democracy in 1985. He believes his background and time spent in jail has helped form his outlook on life.
Mujica has been President of Uruguay since 2010. He has gained worldwide popularity as “The World’s Poorest President” because of his choice to donate 90 percent of his salary to charities and small entrepreneurs throughout the country, leaving his salary at about $775 a month. He drives a Volkswagon Beetle and lives in a farmhouse right outside of Montevideo with his wife, where they work the land themselves. He says this about his lifestyle:
“I’m called the poorest president, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more,” and “I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”
He also stated at the Rio+20 summit in June that if all countries consumed at the same rate as the rich ones, then we would be adding further harm to our planet. Thus, envying their status and wealth does nothing for them.
The plan is for the children to begin arriving around September from refugee camps in the Middle East. The exact number of people is still to be decided, since the Uruguayan government has to work out the expenses, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) protocol calls for orphans to be relocated with at least one relative.
Mujica is facing a bit of backlash from the Uruguayan people because he deviated from the original plan to consult his constituents about the issue, but he made the decision without doing so. He is also getting bad reviews for doing this international aid move when there are orphans in Uruguay that need assistance as well.
Lucia Topolansky, Mujica’s wife, says their decision to take in the Syrian orphans is one to “motivate all the countries of the world to take responsibility for this catastrophe.”
The UN is hoping to relocate another 30,000 refugees this year, and if other countries follow José Mucija’s example, they may have success in the relocation process.
– Courtney Prentice