As his administration works to deal with the growing number of immigrants from Central America illegally crossing the U.S. border to seek safety, President Obama on Friday commemorated World Refugee Day by praising those who flee persecution and the countries that help them.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N.’s refugee agency, on Friday issued its latest report showing that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons are at their highest level since World War II, with more than 50 million people fleeing their homes because of war or lack of internal security. Children, many traveling alone or in groups, represent 50% of those on the run, the largest figure in 10 years, according to the report.
There is a technical difference between a person forced to flee to another country because of war and one who seeks safety either inside or outside a country for economic security or to flee violence that falls short of war. But on a practical level, one country’s illegal immigrants are often another’s refugees.
“We honor the dignity, courage, and determination of these men, women and children who have fled persecution and violence in their homelands and the commitment and generosity of the countries and organizations that provide them protection and assistance during this difficult time,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “While we work to promote lasting peace and stability and human rights around the world, so that these refugees may one day return to their countries in safety and dignity, we know that for some, voluntary return may not be possible.”
The praise for refugees came on the same day the Obama administration announced steps to deal with the growing number of children, unaccompanied or traveling with their mothers, who are crossing into the United States from Central America through Mexico. The administration announced that it is seeking to secure additional space for adults and children and adding lawyers and asylum judges to deal with immigration applications.
In March, the U.N. refugee agency specifically warned of the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the rising numbers of children fleeing their homes in Central America because of violence, insecurity and abuse.
The administration has argued that the crisis at the border has been caused by the growing dangers to children in their home countries and by a misperception that the U.S. will allow children and mothers with children to stay.
Republicans have generally blamed the administration for failing to protect the borders.
Most of the world’s refugees are from well-known hot spots including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia.
In his statement, Obama praised U.S. efforts, saying that the nation has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world and continues to lead the world in refugee resettlement.
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