John Kerry said the United States is ready to do more to help the world deal with the growing Syrian refugee crisis by significantly increasing the number of refugees it accepts from around the world over the next two years. The United States will accept 85,000 worldwide refugees next year, a rise from the current 70,000, increasing again to 100,000 in fiscal year 2017, Kerry said at a news conference alongside his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The number still falls short of what activists have been demanding, but Kerry said the country would look for ways to go beyond 100,000 in subsequent years, reports the New York Times. “This step is in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope,” Kerry said. “And it will be accompanied by continued financial contributions to the humanitarian effort—not only from the U.S. government, but from the American people. The need is enormous, but we are determined to answer the call.”
Although the administration can set numerical goals, Congress has to provide the funding for resettlement. The Washington Post explains:
In the current fiscal year, it cost $1.1 billion to bring 70,000 refugees to the United States, put them through an orientation program run by refugee charities and have them dispersed around the country. At a similar level of funding, the increase would cost at least an extra $200 million.
One of the reasons it is so expensive is that every refugee must undergo extensive background checks under security measures enacted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Those checks have been taking 18 to 24 months for the Syrians, according to State Department figures.
Earlier, Hillary Clinton had urged the United States to take in more Syrian refugees. “We’re facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II and I think the United States has to do more,” Clinton said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in.” Kerry’s predecessor as secretary of state, said the United States should prioritize welcoming the “most vulnerable,” including persecuted religious minorities and Yazidi women.
Kerry’s announcement came days before European Union leaders are scheduled to meet at an emergency summit on Wednesday to try to work out how to handle the more than 500,000 people who have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year alone, notes Reuters. Tragedy struck again Sunday, when 13 migrants died after their dinghy and a ferry collided off Turkey, reports the BBC.