Obama: 'As long as I'm president, U.S. will be a welcoming place for millions fleeing violence around the world'
U.S. President Barack Obama chats with students on a tour of the Dignity for Children Foundation, an education programme for refugee and low-income children, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Nov. 21, 2015.
President Barack Obama said Saturday America cannot turn its sight away from the plight of refugees as long as he is president, dismissing calls for a halt to Syrian and Iraqi refugees entering the United States in light of the Paris terror attacks launched by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group.
The US president reiterated his stance while at a school for poor migrant children in Malaysia, where he described those children as the opposite of terrorists wreaking havoc from Paris to Mali. He compared them to Syrian refugee children whose entry to the U.S. is meeting steep resistance from some Americans.
"They're just like our kids. They were indistinguishable from any child in America," Obama said, Newsmax reported. "The notion that somehow we would be fearful of them — that our politics would somehow lead us to turn our sights away from their plight — is not representative of the best of who we are."
Obama also met the older refugees who will soon relocate to the U.S. and declared that "they represent the opposite of terror, the opposite of the type of despicable violence we saw in Mali and Paris.''
"As long as I'm president,'' he said, America "will be a welcoming place for millions fleeing violence around the world.''
Obama's position to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees for the next fiscal year has been widely opposed by many Americans and even some Democrats, who reportedly have abandoned Obama on the issue. At least 47 House Democrats voted against the president, joining the majority Republicans in approving a bill that suspends the programme on accepting Syrian refugees on Thursday, reports said.
What drives the debate about accepting Syrian refugees in the U.S., as in Europe, are the concerns that terrorists could exploit the system to enter the country and carry out attacks. The concerns were enhanced by the Paris attacks that killed at least 130 people and injured more than 300 others, as well as reports about terrorists posing as refugees and the violence perpetrated by Muslim radicals inside refugee camps.
"Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion,'' House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier told reporters on Capitol Hill, according to the Guardian.
"This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry, so we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee programme in order to verify that terrorists are not looking to infiltrate the refugee programme."
Unlike in Europe, refugees don't set foot in the U.S. until they undergo a vetting process that typically takes 18 to 24 months under existing refugee laws. But Congress wants the refugee laws "to be better guarded against any possible infiltration'' in the light of growing terror threats.
''We've assembled a taskforce starting Saturday to consider legislation as quickly as possible,'' said Ryan. "We're meeting every day and we will bring legislation forward.''
Each year, the U.S. accepts about 70,000 refugees for resettlement. To date, it has resettled 2,200 Syrian refugees, according to the State department.
The Syrian war that broke out in 2011 displaced an estimated 11.6 million people.