MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguay's government on Thursday received the first group of Syrian refugees to arrive in the South American country.
President Jose Mujica welcomed the 42 refugees seeking shelter from the civil war when they arrived at Montevideo airport. The five families were taken to a new home on the Uruguayan capital's outskirts. Officials say they will take Spanish lessons and classes on local customs, and the adults have already been guaranteed jobs.
Uruguay has agreed to receive a total of 120 Syrian refugees. The rest are to arrive by 2015. Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries have also taken in Syrian refugees. But Uruguay is the first one in the region to assume all resettlement costs.
Syria's civil war has forced 3 million people out of the country, creating a crisis that the U.N. refugee agency says requires the biggest operation in the agency's history.
Opinion polls show that while most Uruguayans favor aiding the Syrian refugees, a separate plan to resettle six Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Uruguay is facing strong opposition at home.
Mujica agreed to accept the Guantanamo prisoners earlier this year as a humanitarian gesture, but Uruguay decided to postpone their resettlement at least until after Oct. 26 elections. Mujica said on Wednesday that he will consult with his successor about whether Uruguay should let the prisoners settle there.