The current tide of refugees overrunning Europe is not just a European problem, “it is a world problem,” President Barack Obama told an audience of U.S. service members Friday.
The president, in a visit to Fort Meade, Maryland, marked the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks by answering questions from service members around the world submitted via social media and satellite video.
Obama said the refugee topic would surely come up at the U.N. General Assembly session at the end of this month and that the leaders would “start coming up with a more effective structure for an international response. No one country can solve these problems alone.”
He added that NATO, as the premiere alliance in the world, would have to play a central role.
The president said the only way to solve the refugee crisis was to go to its source.
“There’s the old story about if you see a bunch of bodies floating down a river, part of your job is to pull those folks out and save who you can, but you’ve also got to go upstream and see what exactly is happening,” he said. The source of the refugee river, he said, is the collapse of governance in Syria and the growth of Islamic State.
Obama said the refugee problem would continue for decades because too many states are failing their peoples. In addition, he said, the spread of media gives people in war-torn or poor countries a vision of a better life.
“They are desperate and will take extraordinary risks to get there,” he said.
Watch related video report by Bernard Shusman
Other factors, the president said, will result in even more migration and refugees — for example, climate change.
“I just came back from Alaska, where you're seeing glaciers melt rapidly. … People will be displaced from their traditional lands, either by drought or by flooding, and that can create more refugee problems,” he said.
Obama summed it up: “We’re going to have to work globally.”
Meanwhile, a group Democrats in the House of Representatives is calling on the president to accept 200,000 refugees during the next year. The number is 20 times the 10,000 refugees the president said Thursday that the U.S. would accept.
Seventy-three House Democrats signed a letter Friday, saying that accepting the larger number was the “right thing.”
The letter said, “It is our moral duty, as a nation founded on the principles of equality and freedom, to do what we can to assist our brethren who are in desperate turmoil, and searching for the slightest sign of goodwill.”
The president appeared to open the door a crack to the possibility of additional refugees Friday by telling his service member audience, “I said that we should establish a floor of at least 10,000 refugees that we’re willing to accept.”
Relief groups' call
Some relief organizations have also urged the U.S. to do more.
In a Thursday statement, the International Refugee Committee said the U.S. was “fully equipped to respond in a far more robust way.”
A commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees is “barely a token contribution, given the size and scale of the global emergency,” said New York-based Human Rights First.
On the other hand, some U.S. lawmakers have voiced concerns about a Syrian refugee influx.
Obama wants to “surge thousands of Syrian refugees” into the United States despite intelligence and law enforcement warnings that “we do not have the intelligence needed to vet individuals from the conflict zone,” said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, said he was open to the possibility of admitting more Syrian refugees but was concerned that individuals with terrorist ties could slip in.
The United States has accepted a total of about 1,600 refugees from Syria since the start of the country’s crisis in 2011.