A key U.S. lawmaker, new House Speaker Paul Ryan, is calling for a pause in the U.S. acceptance of Syrian refugees, citing security fears following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.
He said the Republican-controlled House of Representatives could vote within days to delay President Barack Obama's plan to let 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the next year.
"Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion," Ryan said to reporters after meeting with House Republicans.
"We think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program, in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population."
Fears of xenophobia
Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency criticized governments that are demanding refugee resettlement programs be curbed, after the discovery that one of the attackers in last Friday’s deadly siege of Paris slipped into Europe in the wave of Syrian migrants escaping the country's war.
A U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman said in Geneva the agency is deeply disturbed by language that demonizes refugees as a group. "It will contribute to xenophobia and fear," Melissa Fleming said.
Some European officials have called for an end to accepting more refugees in their countries and construction of new border fences.
Following the deadly attacks in Paris, at least 27 of the 50 U.S. state governors and several 2016 Republican presidential candidates have called for an end or delay in the Obama plan.
It is unlikely the governors can block Obama's plan if he proceeds with it, unless Congress acts to end the relocation effort and Obama reverses course.
US presidential candidates weigh in
Two of the Republican contenders looking to succeed Obama when he leaves office in early 2017 suggested the United States should only accept Christian Syrians, not Muslims, into the country, a stance Obama denounced Monday as "shameful, not American."
The leading Democratic presidential contender, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has called for accepting 65,000 Syrians into the country after stringent screening.
U.N. refugee spokeswoman Fleming said Europe's security problems "are highly complex. Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats and must not be the secondary victims of these most tragic events."
FILE - Syrian Kurdish refugees are rescued by Greek fishermen as the boat they were on sinks off the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, Oct. 30, 2015.
Fleming called for resettlement and humanitarian admission programs for the refugees, saying "the security of our societies and ensuring the integrity of asylum in Europe are objectives that are not incompatible."
A humanitarian group, Human Rights Watch, criticized the U.S. governors for trying to block relocation of the Syrians in their states.
"The governors' announcements amount to fear-mongering attempts to block Syrians from joining the generous religious groups and communities who step forward to welcome them," the rights group said.