President Barack Obama called on wealthier nations Tuesday to do more to help millions of refugees find new homes and asked all leaders to imagine what it would be like “if the unspeakable happened to us.”
In his final speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama offered praised for nations “right now that are doing the right thing” to help ease the largest refugee crisis since World War II. But he said many countries, “particularly those blessed with wealth and the benefits of geography,” can do more to offer assistance to more than 65 million people who have fled their homes because of war or persecution or to seek a better life.
Obama commented as the White House announced that more than four dozen U.S. businesses have pledged $650 million to help refugees. Obama will also hold a special refugee summit later Tuesday on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders.
Facebook, Twitter, MasterCard, Johnson & Johnson, yogurt maker Chobani are among companies that have pledged financial and in-kind support to help ease access to education, employment and financial services for 6.3 million refugees in more than 20 countries.
Countries participating in a special refugee summit Obama was hosting are announcing individual pledges in line with a U.S. goal of increasing humanitarian aid by $3 billion, doubling resettlement and providing access to jobs and education. Obama was hosting the summit with the leaders of Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico, and Sweden, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Meeting with CEOs of some of the companies and actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, before the summit, Obama welcomed the pledges as more than an “extraordinary gesture of compassion.”
“I want to emphasize that from their perspective this isn’t charity. This is part of their overall mission. It makes good business sense,” he said.
Lila Ibrahim, chief operating officer of Coursera, an education-focused technology company, echoed Obama’s sentiment. She said she was working to bring online college courses to some 10,000 refugees.
“It makes business sense because you have generations of people who are trying to begin jobs,” Ibrahim said, adding that the company will provide 100 percent financial aid to refugees in hopes that their children and grandchildren will return to Coursera as paying customers in the future.
“I think it’s more about how could we work with refugees to build the company we want to build. I think that’s really important as a start up,” she said.
In his address to the General Assembly, Obama also urged nations to follow through on their pledges “even when the politics are hard.”
The millions of refugees leaving war-torn Syria and other countries wracked by conflict have led to a backlash in some countries, including in the U.S., where Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has suggested banning Muslim immigrants.
Last week, the White House announced that the U.S. would resettle 110,000 refugees in the coming year, a 30 percent increase over the 85,000 allowed in this year.
The 85,000 figure included 10,000 Syrian refugees, a figure advocacy groups had criticized as inadequate given the wealth of the U.S. and the fact that other countries, such as Canada and Germany, were welcoming far greater numbers of fleeing Syrians.
The administration has yet to release a country-by-country breakdown of the 110,000 refugee figure.
Lisa Osborne Ross on Obama’s last speech and refugee crisis
For more about Obama’s speech and refugee crisis, CCTV America’s Asieh Namdar interviewed APCO Worldwide Managing Director, Lisa Osborne Ross.
Story by the Associated Press