What World Leaders Said At The U.N. About The Refugee Crisis

Most encouraged their peers to work together and show compassion.

10/01/2015 11:17 am ET

As 169 world leaders poured into New York City for the United Nations' 70th General Assembly, the migrant and refugee crisis was at the forefront of many of their speeches.

During the meeting, which started Monday and runs through Saturday, many leaders called on the international community to act together and to mobilize resources to help the countries taking in high proportions of migrants and refugees.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech on Monday, in which he connected the struggles and aspirations of Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn country with those of the American people. "In the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves," he said.

Take a look at what world leaders said about the ongoing crisis:

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
    Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images
    "In a world where goods, capital, data and ideas flow freely, it is absurd to impede the free flow of people," Rousseff said. She mentioned in particular how photographs of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore on a Turkish beach, as well as those of an abandoned truck carrying 71 migrants attempting to enter Austria, should be translated into "unequivocal acts of solidarity."
  • U.S. President Barack Obama
    Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
    "In the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves," Obama said, echoing remarks Pope Francis made last week about the United States' immigrant history.

    On Sept. 20, the U.S. vowed to take in 100,000 migrants and refugees by 2017; 18 mayors around the country later offered to take in even more Syrian refugees than the government proposed.
  • European Council President Donald Tusk
    John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
    The migrant and refugee crisis, Tusk said, demands global solidarity.

    "Everyone can offer help to the refugees," he said. "And those who do not want to, at least shouldn't hide their indifference by criticizing Europe for doing too little." 

    The EU has been at the forefront of the deteriorating migrant and refugee crisis. Last week, EU member states approved plans to take in 120,000 refugees, and to add 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in humanitarian funding to organizations including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and World Food Program.
  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
    JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
    "At present up to 10,000 new refugees are arriving every day," Steinmeier said. "These figures show that even we cannot shoulder this alone in the long term. We need a European solution!"

    Germany is the largest recipient of migrants and refugees in Europe and expects to receive about one million migrants and refugees in 2015 alone.
  • Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
    Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
    "For some the only way to deal with this challenge is to build walls higher, to repel migrants by force or to ensure that they remain someone else's responsibility -- as far away as possible," Tsipras said. "We do not believe that the future of Europe or our world can be built on ever-higher walls or children dying at our doorstep. Neither can we forget that many of our ancestors were refugees and migrants."

    Greece, deemed a "frontline" EU member state due to its location in the Mediterranean Sea, has been one of the largest recipients of migrants and refugees from the Middle East. Over 362,000 people have arrived to Greece by sea since the beginning of 2015. The country warned in July that it couldn't cope with the arrivals. In his speech, Tsipras called on the U.N. to "increase support for frontline European states, such as Greece, in their effort to manage these flows" to help mitigate the crisis.
  • King Abdullah II Of Jordan
    Sean Gallup/Getty Images
    "It is high time the international community acts collectively in facing this unprecedented humanitarian crisis and support countries like Jordan and Lebanon, which have been carrying the brunt of this burden over the past four years," Abdullah said.

    Syrian refugees alone currently make up about 20 percent of his country's entire population, he added. Jordan has been taking in refugees from Syria since the beginning of the country's crisis, and is facing an increasingly large drain on its resources and infrastructure, the U.N.'s Refugee Agency reported in January.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    "Refugees, undoubtedly, need our compassion and support," Putin said in his first U.N. General Assembly address in 10 years. "However, the only way to solve this problem at a fundamental level is to restore the statehood where it has been destroyed."

    In other words, he believed the only way to solve the Syrian refugee crisis -- as well as to remove the threat of the Islamic State -- is to bolster Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's regime. Obama, who has continuously called for the end of the Assad regime, had a tense exchange with Putin after the General Assembly speeches.
  • French President Francois Hollande
    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
    "Europe is based on values and principles, and the right to asylum is part of foundation," Hollande said. "At the same time, while Europe keeps discharging its duties, it is the world which has to help the refugees."

    Earlier in September, France declared that it would take in 24,000 refugees as part of the European Union's plan to absorb 120,000 migrants and refugees. Over the summer, Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been pushing for the EU to back a "permanent, mandatory system" where each member state would take in their fair share of people in need.
  • Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen
    Markus Schreiber/AP Photo
    "Their hopes are understandable," Rasmussen said, referring to the reasons behind the influx of people into European borders. "But mass migration is obviously an immense challenge for our societies." 

    Denmark was the EU's second largest recipient of Syrian refugees per capita last year, he said, adding that he was "deeply concerned that the humanitarian needs far outgrow the available financing."

    Denmark, whose government saw a major anti-immigrant right-wing victory in June, placed ads in major Lebanese newspapers last month discouraging migrants and refugees from entering its borders.
  • Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz
    Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images
    "The picture of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea or suffocated in trucks will continue to haunt us," Kurz said. "We therefore need a change of system. We need to create the possibility for refugees to apply for asylum already in their countries of origin or neighboring countries."

    Many migrants and refugees enter Austria from Eastern Europe, often hoping to eventually reach its neighboring country Germany. On Sept. 19, a staggering 10,000 people entered Austrian borders from Slovenia and Hungary.
  • Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam
    Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images
    "Lebanon reiterates its call to the international community, namely all prominent powers in the world, to rise above the reluctance and lingering and stop fighting with Syrian blood and on Syrian territory, urging them to end the ongoing massacres, by fostering a political solution that safeguards the country's unity, independence and territorial integrity, while fulfilling the Syrian people's aspirations for a free and dignified life," Salam said.

    Lebanon has the world's largest number of refugees per capita: The country of 4.4 million currently houses 1.1 million Syrian refugees, 45,000 Palestinian refugees and 17,000 Iraqi refugees, per EU statistics.
  • Finnish President Sauli Niinisto
    Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
    "The refugee crisis is causing serious political tension in Europe. Finland is also receiving proportionally a very high number of asylum seekers. Not helping is not an option for us," Niinisto said. "But we have to find more effective and sustainable ways to help those in need."

    Over 13,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq, have entered Finland's borders so far this year, compared to just 3,600 the year before. But the migrant and refugee crisis has caused rifts within the country recently. On Sept. 25, over 30 ultranationalist demonstrators violently attacked a bus carrying asylum seekers into the country -- an act the government strongly condemned. The country's prime minister, Juha Sipila, on other other hand, announced on Sept. 5 that he would welcome refugees to stay at his home in northern Finland starting early next year. 
  • Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves
    Liis Treimann/Associated Press
    "I am extremely worried to witness the rising support for far right or far left political movements in Europe, often fueled by anti-immigrant, racist sentiments," Ilves said. "Short-sighted, populist policies exploiting fears of ordinary people will lead to nowhere."

    In June, Estonia agreed to take in 150 refugees over two years, sparking protests from extremists across the country and causing support for the right-wing Conservative People's Party to increase. 
  • British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
    Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press
    "I pay tribute to the extraordinary generosity of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who have given a temporary home to many millions of refugees and who have accepted this role stoically for years," Hammond said. "It is incumbent upon all of us to support them as they bear that burden; to ensure that the U.N. appeals for Syria are fully funded."

    The U.K. announced on Sept. 7 that it would take in 4,000 refugees a year until 2020 -- a move that was criticized even within the country. U.K. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said the plan fell "pitifully short of what's needed and of what British people want and expect.: Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury deemed the plan "a very slim response."
  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
    John Moore/Getty Images
    "We have experience working to foster human resources, offering our utmost in humanitarian assistance and upholding women's rights," Abe said. "Now more than ever, Japan wishes to offer that wealth of experience, unstintingly." Abe also offered to give $4.5 million in humanitarian aid to countries dealing with the influx of migrants and refugees.

    Earlier in September, Abe also pledged $200 million in nonmilitary aid for refugees fleeing the Islamic State's violence. But critics say financial support isn't enough. Japan has been attacked for its lack of physical aid -- despite the country's shrinking population, it accepted a mere 11 asylum seekers from a sea of 5,000 applications in 2014.

This is an ongoing report. We will update the post as the General Debate continues this week.


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