US says some 360,000 refugee spots pledged at United Nations

Some 50 world leaders took part in the summit, but their participation was conditional as some 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US President Barack Obama speaks during a High Level Leaders Meeting on Refugees on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2016.

A summit hosted by US President Barack Obama garnered pledges from dozens of countries to resettle or allow the lawful admission of some 360,000 refugees, doubling the number of slots that were available last year, the US envoy to the United Nations said.

Speaking at a US-led refugee summit at the United Nations, Obama praised Germany and Canada among other countries for opening up their doors to those fleeing the war in Syria and other conflicts.

"We are facing a crisis of epic proportion," Obama said. "We cannot avert our eyes or turn our backs. To slam the door in the face of these families would betray our deepest values."

But Ambassador Samantha Power said that was "still only a fraction" of what was needed because the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has assessed that some 1.2 million refugees need to be resettled.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power looks on during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York, on September 20, 2016.

Countries could only attend Obama's summit at the annual UN gathering of world leaders if they made a pledge.

Obama told the summit that the refugee crisis was "a test of our international system where all nations ought to share in our collective responsibilities, because the vast majority of refugees are hosted by just 10 countries."

"We must recognize that refugees are a symptom of larger failures - be it war, ethnic tensions or persecution," he said.

Obama said the more than 50 countries and international organizations that participated in the summit had collectively increased their contributions to humanitarian groups and UN appeals this year by some $4.5 billion.

UNHCR welcomed the support in a statement. 

Power said there were also pledges to increase the number of refugees in schools by some 1 million globally.

"As we've seen in the past, countries have a bad habit of coming to pledging conferences and making commitments and then not delivering," she said. "We have to do better on this occasion."

"The real measure of the summit will only be what countries do and who they help," she said.

Obama has also rallied businesses to help address the refugee crisis and met with business leaders just before the summit on Tuesday, who he said had made commitments worth more than $650 million to empower refugees.

With a record 21.3 million refugees globally, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a political declaration on Monday in which they also agreed to spend two years negotiating global compacts on refugees and safe, orderly and regular migration.