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“Roots 6”: Salam aleikum

The love story between Loua and Amar knows no boundaries. They work together on a project that seeks to promote the integration of immigrants and Arabic-speaking refugees in Chile.

 

Marcella Via

 

Loua and Amar are a Syrian couple who arrived in Santiago a year and a half ago.

Since Middle Eastern politics seem a distant reality for Chilean people, the couple did not feel discriminated against when trying to find work or accommodation.

They say that, having been apart for what felt like a lifetime, they tried for three years to find a way to live in the same part of the world, as while Loua was living in Syria, Amar was in the United States.

Neither Syria nor the United States was the best place to start a life together. The former, due to the on-going war and the latter, for its strict immigration and Islamophobic policies. Their dream was to be together in a previously unknown country and Chile represented the most viable option for both of them.

Naturally, this was no easy challenge, neither of them spoke Spanish when they arrived and they did not have any contacts in the country. They say that the language was the biggest barrier to overcome as it prevented them from finding a good job and friends. In fact, their only friends are other Syrian migrants.

Amar says that when the topic of immigration is brought up, the attention of the Chilean public focuses on the arrival of, Haitians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Columbians. However, there are many Arab migrants in Chile, and the world’s largest Palestine community can be found in Santiago.

As reported by the National Library of Chile, the immigration of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese to the United States, began in the nineteenth century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. At first, the arrival of Arabs to Chile was not an explosive phenomenon, since most preferred to head to the north of the continent. Data shows that in that period around 10,000 people arrived in Chile. Among them, 50 per cent were of Palestinian origin, 30 per cent from Syria, and the remaining 20 per cent came from Lebanon.

Generally, Arabs dedicate themselves to trade. At first using the Nomadic method, of moving around the country, then once they have mastered the language they settle down in cities. In fact, in Santiago they are known as the “persa” (the Persian) at the permanent markets, and if you walk around the Patronato neighbourhood you can find many Arabic shops and restaurants. Today, it is estimated that there are around 350,000 Palestinians living in Chilean territory.

Likewise, Amar adds that the arrival of Palestinians in Chile is not limited to the migratory wave of the late nineteenth century. In fact, as a study by The University of Chile reveals, the arrival of Palestinians to Chile coincides with five different periods that correspond with the major conflicts experienced by Arabic people. These conflicts are The Nakba in 1948, the Six-Day War in 1967, and the increase in Israeli repression after The Intifadas in 1987 and 2000.

In addition to corresponding with the fifth wave of migration, 2008 highlights a radical change in the nature of the arrival of Palestinians in Chile. In fact, in that year the Chilean Government welcomed 117 refugees from Iraq after a call was put out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR).

Although extensive, the Arab migration to Chile does not reach the same intensity as other migratory flows coming from the Latin American region. Most people originating from the Middle East go to Chile to join their families.

Currently, Loua and Amar are working on an application called “Salam”, which was launched on 18 January. The application seeks to deliver relevant and reliable information about Chile to immigrants and Arabic-speaking refugees. The information provided by the application is in Arabic, and aims to encourage the process of integration into the country.

Salam is part of the #ChileIncluye project (an initiative to promote interculturalism, aiming to build a more diverse and liberal country), conducted by the Fundación Interpreta (a non-profit organisation, which seeks to improve migration using social innovation, technology and communication), and PwC Chile. Faced with a lack of action by the government to improve the conditions of immigrants in the country, the project represents an initiative by the immigrants themselves, to prevent misinformation and achieve integration and multiculturalism.

(Translated by Natalie Clark – Email:natalieclark500@gmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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