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US to Raise Quotas for Refugees in FY 2016, Allow 10,000 Syrians

  • Victor Beattie

FILE - Children sit under covers as they wait with migrants and refugees near the registration camp in the town of Presevo after their arrival in Serbia, on Sept. 10, 2015.

FILE - Children sit under covers as they wait with migrants and refugees near the registration camp in the town of Presevo after their arrival in Serbia, on Sept. 10, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will resettle at least 85,000 refugees in fiscal 2016, which begins October 1, including a minimum of 10,000 Syrians. Kerry also warned Russia its military presence in Syria risks attracting more extremists and hinders the potential for a resolution to the nearly five-year conflict.

Speaking Sunday in Berlin, Kerry said the United States will significantly increase the numbers for refugee resettlement in the course of the next year, and the following year. Kerry said the number will go up from about 70,000 in the year ending September 30 to at least 85,000 in fiscal 2016, including a minimum of 10,000 from Syria, and to 100,000 in 2017, with the possibility of doing even more.

"One of the reasons it’s difficult is that, post-9/11, we have new laws and new requirements with respect to security background checks and vetting, so it takes longer than one would like and we cannot cut corners with respect to those security requirements. But, this step that I am announcing today, I believe, is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope, and it will be accompanied by additional financial contributions to the humanitarian effort not only from our government, but from the American people. And, that will become more specific in the next days," said Kerry.

Last week more than 20 former senior U.S. officials, including some who served in the Obama Administration, urged the White House to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal 2016, citing past U.S. efforts that allowed tens of thousands of Cubans and Vietnamese into the country. Kerry said the administration does not have the money allocated by Congress to hire the people necessary to do the job of expediting and expanding the process.

"Now, this will be a debate, obviously, a discussion in Congress in the next days. We’re doing what we know we can manage immediately, what we feel we can do by working within the system we have and within the challenges that we have budget-wise. But, as soon as we have an opportunity to try to up that, we’re welcome because America has always welcomed bringing more people in, in these kinds of circumstances. And, we want to live up to that. But it’s a very different place, different time, different set of challenges than what we faced bringing boat people in from Vietnam," he said.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton Sunday said on U.S. television the United States should allow 65,000 Syrians in, in fiscal 2016, calling the announced 10,000 a good start.

"Looking to really emphasize those who are the most vulnerable, a lot of the persecuted religious minorities, including Christians and some who have been brutalized, like the Yazidi women. But I also want the United States to lead the world, and I’ve recommended that at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly that there be an international meeting called by the Secretary-General and literally get people to commit to putting money in, helping the front-line states like Jordan and Turkey and Lebanon who have absorbed a lot of refugees working with the E.U. and the European countries, but getting everybody to make a contribution," said Clinton.

But, two influential Republican lawmakers, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Bob Goodlatte, House Judiciary Committee chairman, issued a statement Sunday warning that terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, “have made it abundantly clear that they will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States.”

“Now,” they say, “the Obama Administration wants to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrians without a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won’t be able to enter the country. The administration has essentially given the American people a ‘trust me.’ That isn’t good enough.”

In his Berlin remarks, Kerry said he and his German counterpart, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, were also determined to attack the root causes of the Syrian refugee crisis, and repeated that there is no military solution to the conflict. He said they agreed continued military support for the Syrian regime by Russia or any other country risks the possibility of attracting more extremists and entrenching President Bashar al-Assad, which would hinder the potential for a resolution to the nearly five-year conflict.

Saturday, in London, Kerry said Assad must step down, but the timing of his departure had to be decided through negotiation. U.S. officials say Russia has 500 naval infantrymen in Syria along with attack aircraft and helicopters. Moscow insists its activities are defensive in nature and Russia is honoring commitments it has already made to the Damascus government.

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