President Obama called on the world to solve the refugee crisis Tuesday during a pair of speeches at the United Nations, declaring that "history will judge us harshly" if the global community doesn't rise to the occasion.
The president spoke twice Tuesday and opened his first address — the last one of his presidency to the UN General Assembly — by touching on refugees, the spread of democracy, and global integration. He singled out Washington's renewed relationship with Cuba and the US effort to make the International Monetary Fund "more representative by protecting the planet from the ravages of climate change."
Obama called this "important work," and said "it could not have worked if we hadn't worked together." But he also pointed out that the same forces of globalization have facilitated the oppression of other groups of people.
He talked about refugees who "flow across borders," described vast swaths of the Middle East where basic security and order have been broken down, and called out countries for "muzzling journalists" and groups that employ social media to "prey on the minds of our youth."
"We all face a choice," Obama said. "We can choose to press forward with a better model of integration, or retreat into a world sharply divided" by age, tribe, race, or religion.
Obama's section address Tuesday, to a UN meeting on refugees, zeroed in on what he described as a harrowing humanitarian disaster of "epic proportions." He compared the situation to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, adding that "history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment."
"The mentality that allows for violence with impunity is something we cannot excuse," Obama added. "And collectively we continue to make excuses."
Obama also included a several apparent, thinly veiled jabs at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has variously proposed restricting immigration and banning Muslims, as well as erecting a wall along US-Mexico border. In his second speech Tuesday, Obama said the refugee crisis represents a choice over "whether we give in to suspicious and fear and build walls, or whether we see ourselves in another."
"Refugees are subject to more vigorous screening than the average tourist," Obama said at another point during his speech at the meeting on refugees.
Earlier Tuesday while speaking to the General Assembly, the president also stressed the importance of global integration and maintained that its value lied in an equal distribution of benefits.
World leaders need to "make the global economy work better for all people, and not just those at the top," he said.
He admitted that while open markets and capitalism have raised the standards of living around the world, globalization and the rapid progress in technology have hampered some workers' ability to earn a decent wage.
"Often, those who benefit most use their power to further undermine workers," he said.
Obama also made a case for the expansion of democracy across the world, and lauded countries like Japan, Chile, and Botswana for their shifts in policy, saying "countries that are succeeding are those where they feel they have a stake."
In order to achieve this, he said, it was crucial to eliminate all forms of discrimination against other people.
"We must reduce any forms of fundamentalism or racism, or a belief in ethnic superiority," he said.
He called out Russia, who, he said, is "attempting to recover lost glory" from the age of empire through force, as well as Asian powers who argue history.
The US was not spared in his critique. Obama said that in the current debate over immigration and changing demographics, there are people "claiming that people who look different are corrupting the country."
Obama went on to say that "if our religion leads us to persecute those of other people; if we jail and beat people who are gay; if our practices prevent girls from going to school, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray."
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at email@example.com.
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