New Palestinian Refugees

You have to see how well Palestinian Refugees were taken into Chile. This was in 2007, when the Socialist Michele Bachelet was President. 116 Palestinian refugees from Iraq, who had been stuck in a no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria were finally let into Chile. This was big national news in Chile.

The Palestinian Community in Chile has strong political clout, so this became a major event. The refugees were feted, and they got to meet the President.

Chilean Palestinians are often many generations removed from the Mideast, and some may idealize the land of their ancestors. This new group may prove educational to both Palestinians and Chileans of Palestinian descent.

These new refugees are Muslim. Will friction develop? Who knows? Have the Palestinian Christians forgotten that the reason many of their ancestors fled to Chile was to escape Turkish Muslim rule which could be brutal against Christians?1

How long this honeymoon lasts, no one knows. Up until now, almost all (over 99%) of Chile’s Palestinians were Christian – Usually Orthodox Christian, but a lot were Catholic.

How well these Muslims integrate over time into Chile will be anyone’s guess, particularly now that Catholic Chile is also undergoing a bit of an Evangelical Revival. Evangelicals place a very high emphasis on conversions. These new Muslims may be faced with Christians who go out of their way to make converts; something they would not have experienced in the Mideast, where prosyletizing was a death sentence, either legally or socially.

15% of Chile is now Evangelical Christian; and even though 80% of the country is still Catholic, Chile now celebrates Reformation Day2 as a national holiday.

A further bone of contention is that the Evangelical Chileans are often very pro-Israel. Already, the Chilean branch of the General Union of Palestinians Students3, a pro-Palestine student activist group, has clashed with Evangelical Christians over this with scathing editorials on their website. (Their site has been under re-construction for months)

Hopefully, they new Palestinians will assimilate well. If history is any indication, in a generation or two many will have Christianized and blended well into Chile.

I wish them luck.


1For example Turkish slaughters of Maronite Christians in the 19th century and Armenian Christians in the 20th.

2Oddly, the only two countries in the world where Reformation Day is recognized NATIONALLY are Catholic Slovenia and Catholic Chile. Reformation Day is recognized provincially in other countries, but not nationally.

3The UGEP (General Union of Palestinian Students – UGEP in Spanish) is found in many countries. What distinguishes Chile is that Christians would be pre-eminent in the group, because of Chile’s large Palestinian Chrisian community. Before their website was taken down for construction, they ran a scathing – in Chile’s case, inter-Christian – editorial against Evangelical Christians for supporting Israel.