Obama visits Rohingya refugees in Malaysia on sideline of ASEAN summit
US President Barack Obama took time out from the ASEAN summit to visit Rohingya refugees children from Myanmar living in Malaysia, saying the kids were “the face of not only refugees from Myanmar - that’s the face of Syrian children and Iraqi children”.
Obama voiced his determination to put Asia front and centre in his foreign policy November 21, even as a two-nation visit to the region was eclipsed by Islamic terrorist attacks in France and Mali.
America’s self-styled “Pacific president” has been frustrated to see a trip to Malaysia and the Phil- ippines - designed to highlight his stated re-focus on Asia - overshadowed once again.
After years of talking about the need to deepen trade, security and diplomatic ties with the region, White House officials had hoped the trip would be a victory lap.
Obama made a long-planned visit to a refugee centre that took on a domestic political hue, thanks to a bitter debate over Syrian and Iraq migrants in the United States.
During his stop at the Dignity for Children Foundation, Obama knelt down to chat to children aged between seven and nine years about their art work and hopes for the future.
Many at the small, well-appointed centre, complete with a pet bunny, were members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, which was at the centre of a dramatic boatpeople crisis earlier this year.
He later said the kids were “the face of not only refugees from Myanmar -- that’s the face of Syrian children and Iraqi children”.
“When I sat there and talked to them, they were drawing and doing their math problems; they were indistinguishable from any child in America,” he said.
US President Barack Obama sits with a Rohingya refugee girl at a refugee camp in Malaysia.