Obama visits refugees, says they represent the 'opposite of terror'

US President Barack Obama receiving a hug from a refugee (left) and greeting a student (right) while touring the Dignity for Children Foundation - which runs classes for poor children, including refugees - in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Mr Obama has vowe
US President Barack Obama receiving a hug from a refugee and greeting a student (above) while touring the Dignity for Children Foundation - which runs classes for poor children, including refugees - in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Mr Obama has vowed that the US will welcome those fleeing violence around the world "as long as I am president".PHOTOS: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama receiving a hug from a refugee (left) and greeting a student (right) while touring the Dignity for Children Foundation - which runs classes for poor children, including refugees - in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Mr Obama has vowe
US President Barack Obama receiving a hug from a refugee (above) and greeting a student while touring the Dignity for Children Foundation - which runs classes for poor children, including refugees - in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Mr Obama has vowed that the US will welcome those fleeing violence around the world "as long as I am president".PHOTOS: REUTERS

While vowing a relentless pursuit of terrorists, US President Barack Obama highlighted, during a visit to a refugee centre in Kuala Lumpur, the efforts to offer "love and stability and protection" to refugees as being "the opposite of terror".

The visit took place yesterday on the sidelines of the Asean and East Asia summits here that have seen leaders of Asean and the grouping's dialogue partners focusing on terror, continuing from the Group of 20 (G-20) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum meetings in the past week, following the attacks in the French capital Paris on Nov 13 that killed 130 people.

In the United States, lawmakers are seeking to scupper the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the country out of concern that terrorists could slip in with them and carry out attacks similar to those in France. 

Mr Obama has pledged to veto any Bill sent to him to block Syrians from entering and, at the visit yesterday to the Dignity for Children Foundation that runs classes for poor children, including refugees, he vowed that the US will welcome those fleeing violence around the world "as long as I am president".

Earlier yesterday, he began his speech at a business conference by condemning Friday's attack on a hotel in Mali that killed at least 19 people, including an American, promising that "barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge".

"Like the heinous attacks in Paris, and attacks we see all too often elsewhere, this is another reminder of the scourge of terrorism," he said of the attack which two groups linked to Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for.

"With our allies and partners, the US will be relentless against those who target our citizens," said President Obama.

"We will not allow these killers to have a safe haven."  

But he underlined later at the refugee centre that "anybody who had a chance to see those kids, hopefully you understood the degree to which they are just like our kids. They deserve love and stability and protection".

The Associated Press quoted Mr Obama as saying that the youth, most of whom were Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has fled persecution in Myanmar, "represent the opposite of terror, the opposite of the type of despicable violence we saw in Mali and Paris". 

Asean leaders yesterday signed the Asean Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which aims to protect the rights of victims as well as ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers.

Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have been reluctant to accept more refugees and illegal economic migrants coming from Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh, and called for the two countries to do more to stem the tide of irregular movement from their shores.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Obama visits refugees, says they represent the 'opposite of terror''. Print Edition | Subscribe