Meanwhile, Pope says he was "very moved" in meeting Syrian asylum seekers at Vatican
Saying the United States has a tradition of offering second chances, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the Obama administration will increase the number of refugees the US is willing to accept to 100,000 by 2017.
The annual limit is now 70,000 refugees total from all countries of the world, but there has been increasing pressure on European nations on the United States to accept more refugees from war-torn regions, in particular from Syria.
Under the new plan, the U.S. limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year, the New York Times reported. Kerry made the announcement in Berlin, where he was meeting with German officials about the wave of migrants that has swamped Europe. He also met with Syrian refugees who are seeking asylum in Europe.
Pope Francis has been among the voices calling for a more humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. Last Sunday, he called on parishes throughout Europe to take in those fleeing from war in the Middle East and said the Vatican itself would be putting up some refugee families.
As he made his way to Cuba Saturday, the Pontiff told journalists traveling with him that he was “very moved” in meeting one of the families, a Syrian Christian family of four from Damascus. The Pope had met with them briefly immediately before going to the airport for the beginning of his trip to Cuba and the United States. Vatican Information Service said that the Holy Father greeted the 76 journalists about “in a very cordial atmosphere,” enquiring about their families and receiving various edible gifts, “including dulce de leche and an empanada, a typical Argentinian pastry, that he offered to all those present.”
“Thank you for the welcome,” he said. “I wish you a good journey. If I am not mistaken, I think this is the longest trip I have made. … Father Lombardi mentioned peace. Today’s world thirsts for peace. There are wars, immigrants who flee, this wave of immigration as a result of war, to escape from death and in search of life. Today I am happy as I was greeted at the door of St. Anna by one of the two families residing in the Vatican, in the parish of the same name. They are Syrian refugees. You can see the suffering in their faces. … This word: peace. I thank you for all that you do in your work to build bridges: small bridges, but bridges nonetheless, that together all form the great bridge of peace.”
There are some 4 million Syrians in United Nations refugee camps outside the country, according to the Times report. Kerry said the US would explore ways to increase the limit beyond 100,000, while carrying out background checks to ensure that the refugees have not been infiltrated by terrorists.
“This step is in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope,” he said, and added that it “will be accompanied by additional financial contributions” for the relief effort.
The Times said that the United States has only taken in about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict more than four years ago, while Europe has been absorbing hundreds of thousands.
The White House said earlier this month that it would take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, and the administration’s decision to raise the ceiling for all refugees worldwide in 2016 will allow for that increase. Raising the worldwide ceiling to 100,000 in 2017, a senior State Department official, would enable a further increase in Syrian refugees accepted by the United States. “The idea is to have a steep ramp up,” said the official, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters. American officials said that the Syrian refugees accepted by the United States over the next year would be drawn from a list of some 18,000 that the United Nations prepared before the current influx of migrants in Europe.