Pushing back against efforts to bar Syrian refugees from resettling in the US, President Barack Obama vowed on Saturday that his country will be a welcoming place for millions fleeing violence around the world “as long as I’m president”.
Obama commented on Saturday at a learning centre in the Malaysian capital that serves the poor, including some refugees. He met with boys and girls wearing crisp white and black uniforms, and neckties as they sat at tables and worked on painting and puzzle projects.
Obama said the youngsters “represent the opposite of terror, the opposite of the type of despicable violence we saw in Mali and Paris”.
Most of the children the President met with are Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group. Thousands of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to escape persecution by the country’s Buddhist majority, with many ending up in Malaysia, where Obama was attending a regional economic summit.
Obama noted that the world is currently focused on the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, where years of civil war have forced millions to flee to other countries to escape the bloodshed. But he said the world must not forget about some 60 million people who have been displaced around the globe.
Last week’s Paris attacks have led US House to pass a bill to slow resettlement of Syrian refugees in the US out of concern that terrorists could try to slip in with them and carry out similar attacks.
Obama had earlier rejected the idea and pledged to veto any bill sent to him to block Syrians from entering.
Speaking of the children he had just met with, Obama said: “Anybody who had a chance to see those kids, hopefully you understood the degree to which they’re just like our kids. They deserve love and stability and protection.”
He said more and more countries are recognising that they need to do more, vowing that “as long as I’m president, we are going to keep stepping up”.
The refugees Obama met with have all been cleared to come to the US and have been assigned to specific cities, the White House said.
Obama will confront the refugee debate even more directly when he returns to Washington on Monday. One of his first orders of business will be a White House meeting on Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande, who is vowing war against the Islamic State group -- which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks -- as European nations tighten border controls out of fear that terrorists could strike again.