President Barack Obama called on nations to “welcome the stranger” on Tuesday during a much-touted gathering on refugees aimed at rallying support for the record 65 million people displaced around the world.
He also managed to take a veiled shot at Donald Trump.
The U.S.-sponsored summit, which drew a number of private sector participants, was one of two major refugee-related gatherings this week on the margins of the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting. The events took place as New York-area authorities pursued and caught an Afghan-born bombing suspect, the hunt for whom fueled the debate in the U.S. presidential race over refugees.
Trump has slammed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for her openness to taking in refugees and other immigrants. (One of Trump’s sons, in a tweet that provoked backlash on Monday, compared refugees to poisonous Skittles.) Clinton has defended her stance, while calling for proper vetting of all who enter the U.S.
In a subtle rebuke of the Republican nominee’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama framed the world’s response to the refugee crisis as “a test of our common humanity — whether we give into suspicion and fear and build walls or whether we see ourselves in one another.”
The president also spoke of the cause of one of the biggest refugee crises today: the war in Syria. But he gave no indication he was willing to consider a greater U.S. military role to help end that conflict.
“Wars like the savagery in Syria must be brought to an end,” he said, adding that it must be “through political settlements and diplomacy, not simply by bombing.”
The White House unveiled a series of commitments from the international community in response to the call for action from Obama and other allies in the United Nations.
They include some $650 million, including in-kind contributions, from more than 50 private-sector entities. The largest share was a $500 million investment pledge from billionaire George Soros, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he will pump money into “startups, established companies, social-impact initiatives and businesses founded by migrants and refugees themselves.”
Ahead of this week’s summits, the Obama administration announced the United States will take in 110,000 refugees from around the world, including a “significant” number of Syrians, in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
That figure disappointed refugee advocates who’d hoped the administration would take it closer to 200,000 refugees. The president is, after all, urging other countries to double their intake, and a growing number of countries have stepped up to take refugees for the first time or expand their resettlement programs. In the fiscal year wrapping up this month, the U.S. will have accepted 85,000 refugees.
Still, advocacy groups have expressed overall strong support for the U.S.-sponsored summit, saying it will achieve concrete results. Activists were less impressed with a U.N.-sponsored refugee summit held Monday, which kicked down the road until 2018 many difficult decisions about how the global community should handle migration crises.