Kerry: U.S. committed to taking more Syrian refugees

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Sept. 9, 2015 at 12:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will increase the number of refugees it will take in as European nations struggle to accommodate the massive influx of Syrians fleeing their war-torn countries.

Kerry, speaking after meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, did not elaborate on how many would be accepted or when. The United States currently limits the number of Syrian migrants it accepts to 1,500 a year, a fraction of the millions who have fled the country as it is ravaged by civil war and terrorists. By comparison, German has taken in some 800,000 migrants during the crisis. Other countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, have taken in hundreds of thousands each.

"We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take. And we are looking hard at a number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe," Kerry said. "That's being vetted fully right now, and I think at the appropriate time we'll have a better sense of what exactly that number will be."

Following Kerry's comments, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the Obama administraton is experiencing a "crisis of conscience" and the mass exodus of Syrians to Europe is a call for the United States to overhaul its policy in Syria.

"It is a mass exodus of refugees fleeing conflicts that the United States has refused to address for years," McCain said on the Senate floor, standing next to a photo of a drowned Syrian toddler. "Stop calling them migrants. These are refugees."

Tuesday, The White House said a "working group" at the State Department was "actively considering" options, including refugee resettlement. Officials will not say whether a sizable increase in the cap has been discussed. The International Rescue Committee called for the United States to open its doors to 65,000 Syrian refugees.

"The international community is looking at the United States right now to determine what additional steps we can take to try to confront, or help Europe confront, this difficult challenge," said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. "We're certainly mindful of the urgency around increasing the resources and response."

Kerry's comments followed an increased concern from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about the nation's lack of response. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, on Tuesday raised the possibility that Congress approve funding to greatly increase the U.S. quota for Syrian refugees. Graham, a GOP presidential candidate, urged the Obama administration to accept it's "fair share" of Syrian refugees.

"I don't just want to pick a number. I don't know how many we should take, I don't know how much money we should spend, but I know we should take our fair share and we need to spend more to get ahead of this," he said.

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