US says it will take in more Syrian refugees

US says it will take in more Syrian refugees
The US announced that it would increase the number of refugees it takes in over the next two years, as European ministers meet to try and reach a common position.
5 min read
21 September, 2015
Refugees have been crossing through Serbia into Croatia [Getty].

Scrambling to address a growing Syrian refugee crisis, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the United States would significantly increase the number of worldwide migrants it takes in over the next two years, though not by nearly the amount many activists and former officials have urged.  

The US will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, Kerry said at news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after they discussed the mass migration of Syrians fleeing their civil war. 

Many, though not all, of the additional refugees would be Syrian, American officials have said. Others would come from strife-torn areas of Africa.

The White House had previously announced it intended to take in 10,000 additional Syrian refugees over the next year. 

Asked why the US couldn't take more, Kerry cited post-Sept. 11 screening requirements and a lack of money made available by Congress.    

"We're doing what we know we can manage immediately," he said, adding that the US cannot take shortcuts on security checks. 

Europeans meet

Eastern European ministers were to meet Monday to attempt to bridge stark differences over their refugee policies, as an escalating crisis saw thousands of refugees shunted from one border to another over the weekend.

Several thousand finally entered Austria aboard crowded buses and trains on Sunday, while at least 13 refugees drowned off the coast of Turkey, the latest to perish as they try to escape conflict in their home countries mostly in the Middle East and Africa.

Monday's talks between the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Latvia with their counterpart from Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency, are aimed at addressing divides between neighbouring states.

EU interior ministers will also meet on Tuesday, in the hope that significant progress will be made by the time a bloc-wide emergency summit opens on Wednesday.

Six children were among those who died off the coast of Turkey after the inflatable dinghy carrying them to Greece collided with a ship, Turkish media reported. Greek reports indicated another two children may still be missing.

The dinghy was carrying at least 46 migrants to Lesbos, one of several Greek islands inundated in recent months by tens of thousands of people arriving from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and South Asia.

A survivor whose name was given as Haseen told Greek state news agency ANA: "It was dark, we saw the ship bearing down on us. We tried to signal with flashlights and mobile phones but they did not see us."

Thrown overboard, the passengers fought to keep their heads above water. "We lost the children. We could not see them in the dark," Haseen said.

More than 2,800 people have died among the nearly half a million who have braved dangerous trips across the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

'Nicer and nicer'

At the Austrian town of Nickelsdorf on the Hungarian border, some 7,000 refugees arrived on Sunday, a pile-up that caused long waits for onward transport. A snaking line of arrivals awaited buses, with others hoping for taxis to take them to Vienna.

"It's known that once you get to Austria, you've arrived," said Saeed, a 23-year-old from Damascus who is hoping his odyssey will end in Germany.

"As we approach the Europe that we want, people are getting nicer and nicer."

Budapest on Sunday suddenly reopened the Horgos-Roszke 1 crossing, the closure of which had added distance and uncertainty for those undertaking the gruelling journey across the Balkans into western Europe, with Croatia saying more than 25,000 had entered its territory since Wednesday.

Within days of the border closure, Croatia said it could not cope with the huge influx and began redirecting migrants back towards Hungary or towards Slovenia, sparking angry reactions from both countries.

Both Zagreb and Budapest have stepped up efforts this week to move the huge crowds through and out of their territory as quickly as possible, with Croatia pushing a record 1,200 migrants onto neighbouring Hungary in the space of an hour on Sunday.

The right-wing government in Budapest has already built a razor-wire barrier along much of its border with Croatia, after sealing off its frontier with Serbia in a bid to keep migrants out.

Meanwhile in Turkey, some refugees are trying to avoid the sea route and instead head to Europe overland, before being blocked by Turkish police.

Around 700 mostly Syrian men, women and children from a group that had been blocked for the past week at Istanbul's main bus station set out overnight on foot for the northwestern city of Edirne, 250 kilometres (150 miles) away.

After spending the night camped on the hard shoulder of the motorway, some of the migrants, who carried bags over their shoulders, managed to clamber aboard buses or private vehicles.

But a few hundred continued to walk along the emergency lane, in the midst of snarling morning traffic, before being brought to a halt by police about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Istanbul, an AFP photographer witnessed.

Fate of Schengen?

The continent's worst migration crisis since World War II has caused a deep rift between EU members over how to distribute the arrivals.

The massive influx has raised questions over the fate of the Schengen agreement allowing borderless travel across most countries within the 28-nation bloc, with several of them imposing border controls.

There are also bitter divisions over how to distribute the influx fairly between EU members, with several Eastern European countries staunchly opposed to plans for mandatory quotas of refugees.

French President Francois Hollande said that no EU country should be exempt from taking in people with the right to asylum.

"No one can be exempt or we would no longer belong to the same union built on values and principles," he said.

Refugees have largely skirted France, though, with Sabreen Al-Rassace of the aid group Revivre citing a "very, very difficult" process for getting a house and the "long and very traumatising administrative process".