WASHINGTON — The United States is making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming budget year, a significant increase from the 1,500 migrants that have been cleared to resettle in the United States since civil war broke out in the Middle Eastern country more than four years ago, the White House said Thursday.
The White House has been under heavy pressure to do more than just provide money to help meet the humanitarian crisis in Europe. Tens of thousands of people from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa are risking their lives and dying en masse during desperate attempts to seek safe haven on the continent.
The refugees from Syria, however, would be people who are already in the pipeline and waiting to be let into the United States, not the thousands working their way through eastern Europe and landing in Greece. It was not immediately clear how admitting a larger number of Syrian refugees who are in the processing pipeline would help alleviate the crisis that European countries are grappling with.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said about $4 billion that the administration has provided to relief agencies and others is the most effective way for the United States to help shoulder the crisis, but that President Barack Obama has decided that admitting more Syrian refugees in the budget year that begins Oct. 1 would also help boost the U.S. response.
About 17,000 Syrians have been referred over the last few years to the United States for resettlement by the U.N. refugee agency. About 1,500 are in the United States, with another 300 scheduled to be allowed in this month. That leaves about 15,000 Syrians waiting for the clearance process to conclude, according to the State Department.
Obama would like to admit 10,000 of those, according to Earnest's announcement.
Earnest said this week that the administration has been looking at a "range of approaches" for assisting U.S. allies with 340,000 people freshly arrived from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Many are fleeing parts of Iraq that are under the Islamic State group's control. The 1,500 Syrians who are resettling in the United States represent a small percentage of the 11.6 million people who have been chased out of the country or uprooted from their homes due to the civil war in Syria.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, Kerry's predecessor at the State Department, called for an "emergency global gathering" at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this month, where countries could pledge aid money and to accept some of the migrants.
In Europe, rain, misery and more confusion marked the continuing trek of migrants from Syria and other Middle Eastern nations across the continent on Thursday, as thousands endured a downpour, the threat of resistance and changes in their ability to cross borders.
The asylum-seekers were coping with conflicting messages from Europe, ranging from warm welcomes in some places to a series of new constraints on their ability to get where they want to go: Hungary mobilized its army on its border with Serbia as a prelude to an increased role for the military in its response; Austria halted its rail service across the border with Hungary under the strain of the migration influx; and a leading far-right politician in the Netherlands warned of an "Islamic invasion."
The sometimes-wrenching changes from day to day only underscored the lack of unity throughout Europe, the day after a top EU official called for the member nations to put aside their differences and commit to a series of unified responses to Europe's worst humanitarian crisis in decades.
At least 7,000 migrants, including parents with small children, passed the border between Greece and Macedonia on Thursday, confronting heavy rainfall, muddy roads and immense piles of garbage as Macedonia, a poor Balkan country and a candidate to join the European Union, announced that it might follow Hungary's example and build a fence to keep migrants out.
Denmark, which had temporarily closed a highway running north from the German border to try to contain migrants seeking to travel to Sweden and other countries, said Thursday that it would not impede their progress.