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Obama says US to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly said at a closed-door meeting that the US could admit up to 30,000 extra refugees in 2016
File photo shows US President Barack Obama on 15 July 2015 (AFP)

US President Barack Obama has ordered his team to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, the White House said Thursday, amid criticism that the United States has not done enough. 

Spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama had asked staff to "scale up" the number of refugee admissions from around 1,500 in this fiscal year, to 10,000 in the next, beginning 1 October.

"He has informed his team that he would like them to accept at least 10,000 refugees in the next fiscal year," said Earnest.

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

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

Earlier, members of Congress quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying at a closed-door meeting in Washington that the US would take 100,000 refugees next year - 30,000 more than usual, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

"I believe that 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 be able to do what we can," Kerry said after his meeting, according to CNN.

But Earnest said members of Congress had "misunderstood" Kerry.

“To scale up to a degree that some members of Congress have in mind would have some significant fiscal consequences,” NYT reported Earnest saying.

He stressed that the US would not be relaxing the strict, lengthy security checks that are currently required for admitting Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees. The procedure for vetting refugees is expensive and can take 18-24 months.

In reference to Germany considering receiving some 800,000 refugees, Earnest said Germans "are demonstrating tremendous generosity and hospitality”.

But, he added: “The challenge that is facing Germany right now is different than the challenge we’re facing.”

The State Department expects only 1,500 to 1,800 Syrians will have been resettled in the US by the end of fiscal year 2015, which ends next month. Only 105 Syrians arrived in fiscal year 2014.

For human rights groups, the number is not high enough. Groups have called on the US to accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year, according to CNN.

An estimated four million Syrians have fled during four years of war.

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