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Obama at UNGA: Refugee crisis a test of our humanity


Obama rails against anti-refugee rhetoric

United Nations: US President Barack Obama kicked off ‘Leaders Summit on Refugees’ during the 71st UN General Assembly session here on Tuesday by calling the refugee crisis “one the urgent tests of our time” and “a test of our common humanity”, reports PTI.

While criticising Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rhetorics, 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.

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He 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.  It was Obama’s eighth and final address to the UN body.

“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.

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.

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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.