US will take more Syrian refugees: Kerry

The US is looking at the number of refugees it can take in, said US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The US is looking at the number of refugees it can take in, said US Secretary of State John Kerry.AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is studying how it can resettle more refugees fleeing the brutal conflict in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

"I just met with members this morning, and we are committed to increasing the number that we will take," Kerry said, after meeting US lawmakers.

"And we are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe."

The world's No. 1 destination for refugees, the United States has accepted around 1,500 Syrians since the four-year-old conflict erupted.

But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has in total referred 15,000 Syrians from camps in the Middle East to Washington for resettlement.

With global public opinion shocked by images of drowning refugees, the United States is under political pressure to act more quickly.

The White House is expected to lay out its expectations for refugee resettlement by the end of the month.

In the meantime, Kerry and other officials are in talks with Congress, which will eventually have to approve funding.

"I believe the President has made it clear he wants the United States, which has always taken a leadership role with respect to humanitarian issues and particularly refugees, to do what we can," Kerry said.

The secretary was speaking to reporters at the US Capitol after meetings with a Senate subcommittee on immigration and with leading lawmakers.

The United States currently accepts around 70,000 refugees from conflicts and persecution per year, but has been slow to accept Syrians.

Refugees from Syria and its region must undergo strict security checks to weed out extremists, even after being registered by the UNHCR.

Non-government groups working with refugees complain this has slowed over the past year, with referrals taking more than 18 months to process.

US officials have vowed to try to clear the log-jam, but the United States has no specific quota for Syrians in its refugee plan.