Syrian refugee Talal Al Tinawi, his wife Ghazal and their children Yara and Riad, pictured here at their home in Sao Paulo, are some of the few thousand Syrians to have travelled to Brazil. Nelson Almeida/AFP Photo
Syrian refugee Talal Al Tinawi, his wife Ghazal and their children Yara and Riad, pictured here at their home in Sao Paulo, are some of the few thousand Syrians to have travelled to Brazil. Nelson Alm

Could South America be the solution for Syrians dreaming of a better life?



BEIRUT // As Turkey and the EU hash out a plan that could make it even harder for millions of desperate Syrian refugees to reach western Europe, some migrants are looking for farther-flung destinations in which to make a new life.

Though on the other side of the world from the Syrian conflict, Ecuador and Brazil are countries Syrians can get to safely, easily and even legally, yet so far very few have chosen that path.

Refugees heading to these South American countries do not have to endure a perilous journey by sea on overcrowded boats. Nor do they risk getting robbed and abandoned by smugglers, forced into detention and deportation by government agents or having to run from burning tear gas at closed borders.

The only thing they need in order to get to Brazil or Ecuador is enough money for a one-way plane ticket, costing around US$1,000 (Dh3,672) from the refugee hubs of Turkey and Lebanon – a sum comparable to the fee that many smugglers charge for a seat on an inflatable raft from Turkish beaches to Greek islands like Kos or Lesbos.

Yet other challenges, including language barriers and a fear of the unknown, stand between Syrians and South America.

In 2013, Brazil initiated a policy of granting Syrian nationals humanitarian visas from its diplomatic missions abroad. The visas allow entry to Brazil, where Syrians can easily obtain status as a refugee or resident. Brazil currently has no cap on how many Syrian refugees it will take in and the humanitarian visa programme is scheduled to continue through late 2017.

Ecuador, meanwhile, does not require Syrians to obtain a visa prior to travel at all – they can simply show up.

According to Brazil’s charge d’affaires to Syria, Achilles Zaluar, 9,000 humanitarian visas have been issued to Syrians and people residing in Syria – such as Palestinian refugees – since 2013. Between 2,500 and 3,000 who obtained those visas have already completed the process of acquiring refugee status inside Brazil.

While formal resettlement programmes in places like the United States, Canada and European countries are the dream for many Syrians living in refugee camps in the Middle East, their chances of being resettled in such countries are often remote. And even for those chosen or being considered for resettlement, the actual procedure can be a long, drawn-out process fraught with uncertainty. Frustrated by these low chances, many Syrians have taken to illegally crossing into Europe by boat.

But getting to Europe by boat could soon become much more difficult. A deal tentatively agreed to between Ankara and the European Union on Monday could see Turkey taking back all illegal migrants landing in Greece. Meanwhile, new Turkish regulations requiring visas for Syrians arriving by air or sea act as an additional roadblock for many hoping to embark on the migrant trail.

Syrians looking to go to Brazil, however, have much better chances of success. Mr Zaluar estimated that 90 per cent of people who applied for humanitarian visas were granted one. Only those who lacked necessary documents, were believed to be a security threat or were non-Syrians posing as Syrians have been rejected.

“They may choose Brazil because they are tired of waiting for a visa to another country,” said Mr Zaluar.

Far fewer Syrian refugees have arrived in Ecuador, despite the country not requiring any kind of visa for Syrians. Sonia Aguilar, a public information officer with the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) in Ecuador, said about 50 Syrians have claimed asylum in Ecuador since the war began in 2011.

“I think it’s interesting because when you have all this human smuggling and trafficking networks taking advantage of this difficult situation of the people … then you realise it’s far cheaper travelling in the regular ways,” she said. “When they realise it is a safe pathway, they do it.”

Ecuador is “a long, difficult journey” for refugees, she said, but “it’s much safer than travelling just to reach Greece”.

Ecuador and Brazil are an easy way out for Syrian refugees, but they are not without challenges.

Neither country is able to provide the kind of assistance that nations with formal resettlement programmes give to refugees and the assistance refugees receive is limited. While refugees are permitted to work in these countries, without Portuguese or Spanish, their options will be limited. Many will have to survive financially until they can learn the language and be integrated into the workforce.

“When they get to Brazil, they don’t receive the same kind of help they receive in Europe, for instance. It’s a more modest programme. Brazil is not Sweden,” said Mr Zaluar, the Brazilian charge d’affaires to Syria.

The cultural and language barrier is less daunting in Brazil due to its millions of citizens with Lebanese and Syrian ancestry, some of whom speak Arabic.

While refugees can get to Brazil and Ecuador easily and safely, many still aspire to get to Europe, the US and Canada where they see greater opportunities and economic potential.

Heading to South America also remains an unknown. With about half of the one million refugees who arrived in Europe last year being Syrian, many refugees stuck in camps and shared apartments in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan know somebody who has completed the journey.

The logistics, the dangers and what to expect on arrival are all variables that have been well explored. But when it comes to Brazil and Ecuador, few have any knowledge about what life would be like in these countries.

Elsewhere in South America, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said last year that his country was prepared to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees.

“I want 20,000 Syrians to come to our Venezuelan fatherland, to share this land of peace, of Christ, of [Simon] Bolivar, and to help with the development of this magical land,” he announced last September.

However, there have not been signs that the country, which is stuck in a crippling economic crisis, has made further moves on the resettlement project.

“Setting up a resettlement programme is a big thing for a country because you have to accompany it with a lot of measures to ensure that local integration of the resettled refugees is actually possible,” said Wendy Zillich, a protection officer with UNHCR in Venezuela.

jwood@thenational.ae​

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Nomad Homes
Started: 2020
Founders: Helen Chen, Damien Drap, and Dan Piehler
Based: UAE and Europe
Industry: PropTech
Funds raised so far: $44m
Investors: Acrew Capital, 01 Advisors, HighSage Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Partech, Precursor Ventures, Potluck Ventures, Knollwood and several undisclosed hedge funds

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The biog

Family: He is the youngest of five brothers, of whom two are dentists. 

Celebrities he worked on: Fabio Canavaro, Lojain Omran, RedOne, Saber Al Rabai.

Where he works: Liberty Dental Clinic 

Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

Director: Sharat Katariya

Starring: Varun Dhawan, Anushka Sharma, Raghubir Yadav

3.5/5

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

SQUADS

South Africa:
JP Duminy (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wkt), AB de Villiers, Robbie Frylinck, Beuran Hendricks, David Miller, Mangaliso Mosehle (wkt), Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Tabraiz Shamsi

Bangladesh
Shakib Al Hasan (capt), Imrul Kayes, Liton Das (wkt), Mahmudullah, Mehidy Hasan, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mominul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim (wkt), Nasir Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Soumya Sarkar, Taskin Ahmed

Fixtures
Oct 26: Bloemfontein
Oct 29: Potchefstroom

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Stars: Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Tom Blyth

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COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Voy! Voy! Voy!

Director: Omar Hilal
Stars: Muhammad Farrag, Bayoumi Fouad, Nelly Karim
Rating: 4/5

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Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
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Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
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Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

SPECS: Polestar 3

Engine: Long-range dual motor with 400V battery
Power: 360kW / 483bhp
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0-100km/h: 4.7sec
Top speed: 210kph
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The BIO

Favourite piece of music: Verdi’s Requiem. It’s awe-inspiring.

Biggest inspiration: My father, as I grew up in a house where music was constantly played on a wind-up gramophone. I had amazing music teachers in primary and secondary school who inspired me to take my music further. They encouraged me to take up music as a profession and I follow in their footsteps, encouraging others to do the same.

Favourite book: Ian McEwan’s Atonement – the ending alone knocked me for six.

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How to invest in gold

Investors can tap into the gold price by purchasing physical jewellery, coins and even gold bars, but these need to be stored safely and possibly insured.

A cheaper and more straightforward way to benefit from gold price growth is to buy an exchange-traded fund (ETF).

Most advisers suggest sticking to “physical” ETFs. These hold actual gold bullion, bars and coins in a vault on investors’ behalf. Others do not hold gold but use derivatives to track the price instead, adding an extra layer of risk. The two biggest physical gold ETFs are SPDR Gold Trust and iShares Gold Trust.

Another way to invest in gold’s success is to buy gold mining stocks, but Mr Gravier says this brings added risks and can be more volatile. “They have a serious downside potential should the price consolidate.”

Mr Kyprianou says gold and gold miners are two different asset classes. “One is a commodity and the other is a company stock, which means they behave differently.”

Mining companies are a business, susceptible to other market forces, such as worker availability, health and safety, strikes, debt levels, and so on. “These have nothing to do with gold at all. It means that some companies will survive, others won’t.”

By contrast, when gold is mined, it just sits in a vault. “It doesn’t even rust, which means it retains its value,” Mr Kyprianou says.

You may already have exposure to gold miners in your portfolio, say, through an international ETF or actively managed mutual fund.

You could spread this risk with an actively managed fund that invests in a spread of gold miners, with the best known being BlackRock Gold & General. It is up an incredible 55 per cent over the past year, and 240 per cent over five years. As always, past performance is no guide to the future.

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