WASHINGTON — President Obama marked World Refugee Day today by recognizing “the challenges and hardships that refugees face,” their “courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming obstacles” and “their many valuable contributions to our nation.”
The day was established by the UN General Assembly in 2000, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying this year that “forced displacement has reached unprecedented levels, with more than 65 million people uprooted from their homes globally.”
In a statement released by the White House, Obama noted that’s “more than the population of France, or California and Texas combined.”
“More than half are children. The scale of this human suffering is almost unimaginable; the need for the world to respond is beyond question,” Obama said. “…For our part, the United States provides more humanitarian assistance to refugees than any other nation and maintains the world’s largest refugee resettlement program.”
The president had previously announced plans to hold a summit on refugees on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.
“In advance of that Summit, the United States is urging other governments to contribute more funding for humanitarian aid operations, to grant more refugees the chance to work and attend school, and to who cannot safely go home or remain where they are. We are urging our non-governmental partners, including the private sector, to do more as well,” he added.
Obama acknowledged “countless Americans” who “do their part to welcome and support refugees as they start life anew in the United States.”
“The millions of refugees who have resettled here through the years have brought similar dreams of a better tomorrow. Each has enriched the diverse mosaic that is America. Their lives and their many accomplishments stand as a clear rebuke to the bigotry and brutality they fled, and serve as a powerful example of the human will to endure, hope, and achieve,” he said.
“…Protecting and assisting refugees is a part of our history as a nation, and we will continue to alleviate the suffering of refugees abroad, and to welcome them here at home, because doing so reflects our American values and our noblest traditions as a nation, enriches our society, and strengthens our collective security.”
A group of 74 House Democrats led by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-N.J.), and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) sent Secretary of State John Kerry a letter today asking the State Department to meet the previously stated administration goal of screening and resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year.
“We need to do more to fulfill our commitment to Syrian refugees,” Moulton said. “These are the people that ISIS is persecuting. There’s nobody who knows the terror of ISIS better than these refugees. When we refuse to help the enemies of ISIS, we empower ISIS and aid their recruitment.”
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and leading Judiciary Committee Democrats John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) were among the signatories on the letter.
“When we make a promise to the world that we will welcome those seeking a better life because they are fleeing war and persecution in their homeland, I expect us to keep our word. It is my hope that at the very least we will meet our goal and continue to lead by example to address the Syrian refugee crisis,” said Pascrell.
During the first eight months of this fiscal year, the U.S. accepted 2,805 Syrian refugees. The Dems noted that the U.S. has accepted 130,000 refugees from Iraq since 2002.
The lawmakers added that they support the “enhanced review” procedures put in place specifically for Syrian refugees on top of the standard refugee screening.
Kerry noted in a statement today that the “good work and the resources we and other donors provide are not keeping pace with today’s unprecedented needs – because there are so many refugees, because they are staying in exile longer, and because countries hosting them are overwhelmed.”
“More than eight in ten who flee across borders take refuge in poor or middle-income countries, often in countries struggling to provide even their own citizens with basic necessities like health care, education, and clean water,” Kerry said.
“…The refugees we welcome to the United States will join previous generations who have come to this country to escape violence and persecution – threats to human life and dignity that remain all too real today. History celebrates such moments when we have overcome bias and fear, and opened our doors. Those who have walked through them have made immeasurable contributions to our community of citizens and enriched our lives. Their achievements are a testament to the potential all humans have to heal, to overcome loss, to start over, and to the obligation we share, to give future generations that chance.”