As Europe scrambles to deal with the ongoing refugee influx, the United States said it would increase its refugee quota to 85,000 for 2016, a rise of 15,000 from the current 70,000 cap. The cap would go up to 100,000 in 2017 but the US is not setting any numbers for the Syrian refugees it would accept.
"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," US Secretary of State Kerry said. He, however, declined to comment on how many of these will be from Syria alone from where, as per UN records, four million people have fled since 2011.
Activists feel the number announced is too low compared to the resources the country has at its disposal. Earlier, in a letter to President Obama, humanitarian groups backed by at least 14 senators, had urged the US government to allow 65,000 to 100,000 refugees from Syria alone. The United States has taken in only 1,500 Syrian refugees since the conflict began more than four years ago, a significantly small number compared to some of the European nations.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has said her country, which is expecting one million asylum applications, could take in close to 800,000 of those refugees by year end. France agreed to take 24,000 more refugees over the next two years and Britain 20,000 this year. A crucial EU Migrant summit is also expected on Wednesday, 23 September, where voluntary relocation of close to 120,000 refugees from front line states across the EU will be decided.
Post 9/11, refugee grants in the US have significantly changed with screening becoming extremely tough in view of security threats. In 2011, two Kentucky residents, who had been resettled as Iraqi refugees, were accused of being al-Qaeda members. They were convicted of terrorism charges after their fingerprints were linked to roadside bombs in Iraq.
Incidents like these led to even harsher steps to screen refugees, a process that has been criticised as slow and bureaucratic. US officials have recognised the process for admitting Syrian refugees can take up to 18 months, largely because of vetting to make sure they do not pose a security threat. Congress' Homeland Security Committee chairman and member of the Republican Party Michael McCaul, warned last Sunday (13 September) that the United States does not have the intelligence to properly vet Syrian refugees and that he believes the Islamic State would use and "exploit the refugee crisis to infiltrate the west."
People fleeing the violence in Syria account for the largest portion of those arriving on European shores, but there are many others on the move from African nations and elsewhere. The ultimate resolution of the refugee crisis, according to Kerry, will only come when Syrian President Basar-al Assad is overthrown.