President Obama criticized the growing emphasis on border security in response to the Syrian migrant crisis in Europe, calling for more acceptance and empathy from Europeans for the plight of migrants.
During a speech in Germany, Obama urged Europeans to reject the notion that their governments should do more to keep refugees out.
“In Germany, more than anywhere else, we learned that what the world needs is not more walls,” he said, alluding to the former Berlin Wall. “We can’t define ourselves by the barriers we build to keep people out or to keep people in.”
Obama made his remarks during a visit to Germany, in which he defended German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lenient polices with regard to Syrian refugees. He also cited Pope Francis to highlight the importance of a compassionate response to the needs of refugees.
“All of us can be guided by the empathy and compassion of His Holiness, Pope Francis, who said ‘refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and [they] need to be treated as such,’” he said.
He admitted that the United States was also struggling with a migrant crisis on the Southern border, which inspired its own set of difficult political problems.
“Look, the sudden arrival of so many people from beyond our borders, especially when their cultures are very different, that can be daunting,” he said. “We have immigration issues in the United States as well, along our southern border of the United States and from people arriving from all around the world who get a visa and decide they want to stay.”
Obama admitted that the political issues around immigration and refugees is “hard” but that all Western nations should unite in a common purpose.
“We have to uphold our values, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard,” he said.