Barack Obama rails against anti-refugee rhetoric during 71st UN General Assembly session

Barack Obama said the world was facing a refugee crisis of "epic proportions" with more than 65 million people having been driven from their homes, more than any time since the World War-II.

By: PTI | United Nations | Updated: September 21, 2016 2:31 pm
Barack Obama, Obama, US, US president Barack Obama, UN, UN General Assembly session, refugee crisis, US refugee crisis, US general assembly, Ban-ki moon, Nawaz sharif, World news Obama said he called the summit because the refugee crisis is “one of the most urgent tests of our time – our capacity for collective action. (Source: AP photo)

In a criticism of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric, US President Barack Obama said if America turned away refugees simply because they are “Muslim”, it would reinforce the terrorists’ propaganda and the “ugly lie” that the US is opposed to Islam.

Obama, who hosted a ‘Leaders Summit on Refugees’ during the 71st UN General Assembly session here on Tuesday, said the world was facing a refugee crisis of “epic proportions” with more than 65 million people having been driven from their homes, more than any time since the World War-II.

“Among them are more than 21 million refugees who have fled their countries – everything and everyone they’ve ever known, fleeing with a suitcase or the clothes on their back,” he said.

“And if we were to turn refugees away simply because of their background or religion, or, for example, because they are Muslim, then we would be reinforcing terrorist propaganda that nations like my own are somehow opposed to Islam, which is an ugly lie that must be rejected in all of our countries by upholding the values of pluralism and diversity,” he said at the summit attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bangladesh Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina.

He highlighted that in recent years, the US has put in place intensive screening and security checks to take in refugees as well as ensure the nation’s security.

“Refugees are subject to more rigorous screening than the average tourist. We’ve seen in America, hardworking, patriotic refugees serve in our military, and start new businesses and help revitalise communities. I believe refugees can make us stronger,” he said.

“So the challenge to our security is because when desperate refugees pay cold-hearted traffickers for passage, it funds the same criminals who are smuggling arms and drugs and children.

“When nations with their own internal difficulties find themselves hosting massive refugee populations for years on end, it can risk more instability. It oftentimes surfaces tensions in our society when we have disorderly and disproportionate migration into some countries that skews our politics and is subject to demagoguery,” he said.

For the past year, Trump has been warning that letting refugees in would make the US vulnerable to new terror attacks. The brash tycoon has spearked a wave of criticism over his comments on race, immigrants and refugees, including calling for a ban on Muslim travelers to the United States.

And this week, one of Trump’s sons triggered an online storm with a tweet comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl containing an assortment of tainted and untainted candies.

Obama said he called the summit because the refugee crisis is “one of the most urgent tests of our time – our capacity for collective action. To test, first and foremost, our ability to end conflicts, because so many of the world’s refugees come from just three countries ravaged by war – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia,” he said.

Obama, who is attending the last UN General-Assembly session of his presidency, said nations cannot excuse the mentality that allows for violence with impunity.

He added it was not fair that a handful of countries, mostly with limited resources, are bearing the burden of hosting the maximum refugees.

“And collectively, we continue to make excuses. It’s not the subject of this summit, but we all know that what is happening in Syria, for example, is unacceptable. And we are not as unified as we should be in pushing to make it stop.

“It’s a test of our international system where all nations ought to share in our collective responsibilities, because the vast majority of refugees are hosted by just 10 countries who are bearing a very heavy burden – among them Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia. Countries that often have fewer resources than many of those who are doing little or nothing,” he said.

The refugee crisis also tests the nations’ shared security. “Not because refugees are a threat. Refugees, most of whom are women and children, are often fleeing war and terrorism. They are victims. They’re families who want to be safe and to work, be good citizens and contribute to their country… who are interested in assimilating and contributing to the society in which they find themselves.”

He underlined the need to recognise that refugees are a symptom of “larger failures” such as war, ethnic tensions or persecution.

“If we truly want to address the crisis, wars like the savagery in Syria must be brought to an end – and it will be brought to an end through political settlement and diplomacy, and not simply by bombing.”

He told the summit that as President, he has increased the number of refugees America is resettling to 85,000 this year, which includes 10,000 Syrian refugees.

In the coming fiscal year, the US will welcome and resettle 110,000 refugees from around the world – which is a nearly 60 percent increase over 2015.