U.S. Shifts Focus To Refugee Crisis At U.N. General Assembly
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There are 65 million displaced people around the world and no consensus on how to help them. Today officials meeting at the United Nations in New York struggled to find common ground. Tomorrow President Obama will hold a summit for political and business leaders. He'll seek firm pledges of aid. And to drum up support, the Obama administration has joined forces with a fuzzy, blue celebrity. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You guys ready to try the sound?
ERIC JACOBSON: (As Grover) I am, certainly - yes.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: At a television studio in New York, a U.S. assistant secretary of state prepares to be upstaged by a famous hand puppet - Grover from "Sesame Street."
JACOBSON: (As Grover) Are you ready?
TONY BLINKEN: I'm ready as I'll ever be.
JACOBSON: (As Grover) OK, OK.
AMOS: It's Tony Blinken. The U.S. assistant secretary of state has teamed up with the popular children's television program to produce a short public service announcement. It's a kickoff to the president's Refugee Summit on Tuesday. The White House is sending the video out on social media.
BLINKEN: Today we're talking about refugees.
JACOBSON: (As Grover) What is a refugee? Oh, sorry. Somebody did not turn off their cell phone.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Keep rolling.
AMOS: The intended audience - children and leaders at the summit. It's one tool to change the narrative on refugees and the displaced from they are a security threat to they are just like us, says Blinken.
BLINKEN: They are just like us. They are us. And as Americans, so many of us are the product of families that had refugees or immigrants. And they've contributed so much to our country.
AMOS: It's a tough sell at home as a majority of Americans are against any increase in resettlement. Concerns increase any time there's an attack in the West. The U.N. is holding its own summit today. World leaders failed to agree on a specific target number, rejecting calls to shelter 10 percent of the world's refugees annually. Refugee advocates are already blasting the results.
President Obama is on stage tomorrow. He's using his last appearance at the U.N. to push for more education for refugee children around the world and more job opportunities for their parents. And he's looking beyond world leaders.
BLINKEN: President Obama's convening the leaders of major companies from the United States and around the world in a call-to-action to look at what they can contribute to answering this challenge and this problem.
AMOS: The heads of 50 top companies are meeting with the president in New York, says Blinken, and Obama expects specific commitments from the private sector.
BLINKEN: Part of that is in fact employing refugees. You're talking about, in many cases, people with extraordinary skills who want an opportunity to put them to work. It's also in the interest of companies. The talent is real.
AMOS: But it's developing countries that host the bulk of world refugees, mostly in urban areas, not in traditional camps. And a backlash is building without a boost in international aid. Now conflicts are lasting much longer in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, with desperate families struggling for decades sometimes for a generation.
JACOBSON: (As Grover) I know all about refugees.
BLINKEN: You do?
JACOBSON: (As Grover) Of course I do. They are the ones who wear striped shirts and blow whistles at soccer games.
BLINKEN: (Laughter) No, Grover, that's a referee. I'm talking about refugees - people who've had to leave their homes because it's not safe for them to live in their countries.
AMOS: The message may be hard to hear for world leaders, but the "Sesame Street" team is aiming at the next generation. And Grover will be talking about refugees long after the summit is over. Deborah Amos, NPR News, New York.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly refer to Tony Blinken as an assistant secretary of state. He is actually deputy secretary.]
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Correction Sept. 20, 2016
We incorrectly refer to Tony Blinken as an assistant secretary of state. He's actually deputy secretary.