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World

Refugee Summit Held On Sidelines Of U.N. General Assembly Meeting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's what world leaders will and will not do about 65 million people forcibly displaced in the world. At a United Nations summit on Monday, nations did not commit to resettle millions of refugees. Meeting with President Obama on Tuesday, a selection of world leaders and corporate executives did make some commitments. NPR's Deborah Amos is covering all this in New York.

Deborah, good morning.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What did the president do?

AMOS: Well, this was a high priority for the White House after Obama has been criticized for not taking in Syrian refugees.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

AMOS: Everybody had to pledge before they could get into the room. Some are going to double resettlement. There's more money for humanitarian aid. The private sector added a half a billion dollars - this is companies like Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn. But Obama had a loftier goal to build empathy for refugees. There was a catch in his voice when he talked about that iconic picture of that dazed 5-year-old from Aleppo, Syria - he was wiping blood from his hands in the back of an ambulance. So Obama talked about a letter he got from Alex, an American boy who offered to share his bike and his home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will give him a family, and he will be our brother. Those are the words of a 6-year-old boy. He teaches us a lot.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: Deborah, this sounds impressive, but I'm just doing some math in my head. You said the private sector contributed - said they'd contribute half a billion dollars - sounds great. You divide it by the number of refugees in the world - it's not even $10 a refugee. What can the private sector do with something this vast?

AMOS: You're right. It is vast. But there's some interesting innovations - having educational courses on your cell phone, pledges of jobs. There's a Texas company making handbags that say 90 percent of the workforce will be refugees. Here's another approach offered by Bruce Cohen. He's co-founder of Talent Beyond Boundaries. He's working on a database. Now, he's got about 2,500 work resumes from Syrian refugees just in Lebanon. And here's what he said.

BRUCE COHEN: It seemed obvious to us that somebody should be matching skilled and talented with opportunities, project, places in the world where there are skill gaps. The refugee population includes many skilled people - engineers, nurses, IT professionals, teachers.

AMOS: Now, Cohen talked about hundreds of, for example, skilled Syrian nurses who are now refugees. His expectation is job placements, maybe in Africa, Latin America, Australia. This is all in the early stages. There's lots of details to work out. But his idea is that many highly educated refugees would jump at the chance of a work visa rather than waiting a long time for resettlement.

INSKEEP: And lots of people observing this have noticed not only that refugees have skills, but a lot of countries have a deficit of skills or they're being depopulated and could use extra populations. How much is this summit going to do, really, to match up countries that would possibly like incoming residents with refugees?

AMOS: There was lots of new ideas. The president says you can't keep doing the same old things in a crisis this large. He's been very late to address it. His farewell speech at the U.N. - this is all about wars and violence. You know, that is the anguishing challenge for this administration, for example, in Syria. If you can't stop the wars, you can't stop this huge mass migration crisis.

INSKEEP: Dealing with symptoms rather than the cause because that's the situation they're in.

Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deborah Amos is in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.