Obama draws pledges from 50 countries to take in 360,000 refugees
Speaking at a US-led refugee summit at the United Nations, Obama praised Germany and Canada among other countries for opening up their doors to those fleeing the war in Syria and other conflicts.
“We are facing a crisis of epic proportion,” Obama said.
“We cannot avert our eyes or turn our backs. To slam the door in the face of these families would betray our deepest values.”
Some 50 world leaders took part in the summit, but their participation was conditional on making new commitments to address the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
“Collectively, our nations are roughly doubling the number of refugees that we admit to our countries to more than 360,000 this year,” Obama announced.
In particular, seven countries – Romania, Portugal, Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, France, Luxembourg – committed to resettle or admit at least 10 times more refugees than in 2015, according to US officials.
While the new pledges would allow more asylum seekers to rebuild their lives, it represented a fraction of the 1.1 million refugees who are in need of resettlement in 2016, according to the UN refugee agency.
Countries also boosted financial contributions to UN appeals and international humanitarian organisations by about $4.5 billion over 2015 levels.
The pledges included funds to ensure access to schools for one million refugee children and enabling one million refugees to work legally.
The summit was held a day after the 193 UN member-states adopted a global plan to confront the refugee crisis. Rights groups dismissed the plan as falling far short of the needed international response.
A record-breaking 65 million people are on the move worldwide, including 21 million refugees fleeing the war in Syria and other conflicts.
Now in its sixth year, the war in Syria has displaced nine million people while more than four million have fled to neighbouring countries.
Don’t build walls
The Obama administration itself has said it will raise the number of refugees entering the United States to 110,000 next year, up from 85,000 this year.
In an apparent swipe at US presidential candidate Donald Trump, Obama said the refugee crisis was a “test of our common humanity, whether we give in to suspicion and fear and build walls.”
Trump has controversially proposed building a wall on the US border with Mexico to keep out undocumented migrants.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country has taken in more than 30,000 Syrian refugees since December, said the refugee crisis posed a challenge but also “an opportunity,” vowing “there is more to come.”
After admitting one million refugees last year, Germany pledged to continue welcoming those in search of refuge.
“I believe we cannot allow ourselves to stop here. We must finally get ahead in tackling this crisis,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered electoral setbacks this month in the face of a surge of anti-migrant parties.
Obama pointedly noted in his address that “the politics can be hard” for leaders who open up to refugees and migrants.
Only eight countries currently host more than half the world’s refugees: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya and Uganda.
Six of the world’s richest countries – the United States, China, Japan, Britain, Germany and France – hosted only 1.8 million refugees last year, just seven percent of the world total, according to research by the British charity Oxfam.