Here is a question for you: why aren’t flights from the Middle East to South America crowded with Syrian refugees?
On paper, most of the Southern Cone countries have remarkably liberal immigration regimes. Start with Argentina. Refugees are automatically accorded two years of residency and receive legal representation. (See the 2010 Migration Act.) Now, the law is not as liberal as American activists would have you believe: undocumented migrants can still be deported (page 17), but the Argentine government has explicitly opened its doors to Syrian migration. Uruguayan immigration law is even more liberal than Argentine. All you need to do to migrate to Uruguay is demonstrate an income stream of $500 per month. After that, naturalization comes within a few years. Brazil has a liberal new refugee law.
The problem isn’t cost. A ticket costs around $800, rather less than the monetary cost of making it overseas to Europe.
But in practice, all three countries are pretty much closed.
Start with the official Argentine program for Syrian refugees. The refugees need to have links to an Argentine sponsor either through family ties (out the fourth generation) or via a “pre-existing personal relationship based on whatever legal, reasonable, and justifiable reason: family, social, educational, work, etcetera.”
Unless a Syrian in a camp somewhere can demonstrate a tangible documented link with somebody in the Argentine Republic, then they do not get a visa. This policy lets Buenos Aires claim that the doors are open while actually keeping them firmly shut.
The policy may change, depending on how seriously Argentine authorities take the definition of a family link. Supposedly, 4 million Argentines trace some ancestry to Syria. In reality, no. In the peak years of 1897-1913, net migration from Syria came to about 103,000. To get from that to 4 million you have to assume almost total exogamy, which is not likely. (For the pedantic: if you assume the same birthrates as the general Argentine population, a generation of 35 years, and total exogamy, then about 3.4 million Argentines should have some “Syrian” ancestry by now.)
Moreover, a 1936 census registered only 11.2% of the Syrian-born residents of Buenos Aires as Muslim. (Page 17, once again.) Some of that is surely conversion, but it also implies that the “Syrians” came much more from Lebanon than from Syria.
Nor is this policy in violation of Argentine refugee law. Article 10 exempts anyone under U.N. protection. Article 11 exempts anyone who has “voluntarily settled inside or outside the country which he left owing to fear of persecution.” Depending on the definition of “voluntarily settled,” that could include precisely every Syrian refugee. It certainly includes anyone in a UNHCR camp. Only a few hundred people have escaped under this not-so-generous regime.
Uruguay is worse. After the country took in a whopping 42 refugee families, a counterreaction set in, and the door are now firmly shut. In theory, the country has pledged to admit ... wait for it ... 120. Now, Uruguayan law opens up an interesting way from European countries to send their unwanted refugees to Uruguay: give them an airplane ticket and a $500 per month stipend. That said, given what happened with the 42 refugees the law would be changed right quick if a European government tried to take advantage of it.
Chile, meanwhile, has a liberal refugee law that only considers people who manage to make it to Chilean territory. So no visa for that plane ticket from Dubai.
And then there is Brazil, which had settled 1,740 Syrian refugees as of March, and 2,077 as of this month. That is nice, but still a very small number. The Brazilian issue is that the bureaucracy is slow, so even without formal quotas few applications get processed. (The Brazilians also exempt anyone under U.N. protection.) It is probably the most open, but still not enough for a mass exodus.
The Brazilian case shows how much bureaucracy can turn an ostensibly open process into a closed one. The Mexican government is coming under a surprising amount of domestic pressure to accept 10,000 refugees. I bet there will even be a bill. And it will sound good.
But the devil will be in the details. Do not wait for Latin America to open its doors in any serious way.