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President Obama At The UN: Global Refugee Crisis “A Test Of Our Common Humanity”

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In an impassioned speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday, President Obama called the global refugee crisis “a test of our common humanity” and pledged on nations to step up on their efforts to aid those fleeing violence and death.

“Obama delivered a stinging rebuke of those who would build walls, a message aimed at foreign leaders who he said had fueled rising nationalism, sectarian hatred and economic inequality — but, unmistakably, at Donald J. Trump, as well,” noted the New York Times.

The global refugee crisis has reached numbers unseen since World War II. According to the UN Commission on Human Rights, an estimated 65.3 million people globally have been forcibly displaced from their homes and countries by war and persecution in 2015, up from 37.5 million in 2005.

Despite objections from Republican Congressional leaders, President Obama earlier this month announced plans to admit 110,000 refugees to the United States over the next year, 10,000 more than originally planned.

“Some 50 world leaders took part in Obama’s summit on Tuesday,” noted  Al Jazeera. “Their participation was conditional on making new commitments to address the global crisis.”

From President Obama’s remarks:

“We are here because, right now, in crowded camps and cities around the world, there are families — from Darfur in Chad, Palestinians in Lebanon, Afghans in Pakistan, Colombians in Ecuador — who’ve endured years — in some cases, decades — as refugees, surviving on rations and aid, and who dream of someday, somehow, having a home of their own.

We’re here because, right now, there are young girls — like Yusra, like my daughters — who are just as precious and just as gifted — like the 16-year-old refugee from Myanmar that I met in Malaysia — who’ve suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of traffickers, modern day slavery, girls who pray at night that someone might rescue them from their torment.  There are boys, fleeing the fighting in South Sudan, violence in Central America, wars in North Africa and the Middle East — who are at the mercy of criminals who pack them into trucks or makeshift rafts, and who die on treacherous seas — like little Alan Kurdi from Syria, lifeless, face down on a Turkish beach, in his red shirt and blue pants. 

We are here because, right now, there are mothers separated from their children — like the woman in a camp in Greece, who held on to her family photographs, heard her children cry on the phone, and who said “my breath is my children…every day I am dying 10, 20, 30 times.”  We’re here because there are fathers who simply want to build a new life and provide for their families — like Refaai Hamo, from Syria, who lost his wife and daughter in the war, who we welcomed to America, and who says, “I still think I have a chance to make a difference in the world.”

Mr. Secretary General; heads of state and heads of government; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:  As you saw in the video, we are facing a crisis of epic proportions.  More than 65 million people have been driven from their homes — which is more than any time since the Second World War.  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.

And I’m here today — I called this summit — because this crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time — our capacity for collective action.

As Americans, we’re determined to do our part.  The United Nations [United States] is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid around the world, including to refugees and to the people of Syria.  We resettle more refugees than any other nation.  As President, I’ve increased the number of refugees we are resettling to 85,000 this year, which includes 10,000 Syrian refugees — a goal we’ve exceeded even as we’ve upheld our rigorous screening.  And I called for this summit because we all have to do more.

Additionally, the mayors of New York, London and Paris published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for an inclusive approach to refugees (the full text is available here):

As the mayors of three great global cities — New York, Paris and London — we urge the world leaders assembling at the United Nations to take decisive action to provide relief and safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and migrants fleeing economic hardship, and to support those who are already doing this work.

We will do our part, too. Our cities pledge to continue to stand for inclusivity, and that is why our cities support services and programs that help all residents, including our diverse immigrant communities, feel welcome, so that every resident feels part of our great cities.

Investing in the integration of refugees and immigrants is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Refugees and other foreign-born residents bring needed skills and enhance the vitality and growth of local economies, and their presence has long benefited our three cities.

We know policies that embrace diversity and promote inclusion are successful. We call on world leaders to adopt a similar welcoming and collaborative spirit on behalf of the refugees all over the world during the summit meeting this week. Our cities stand united in the call for inclusivity. It is part of who we are as citizens of diverse and thriving cities.