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Kerry: U.S. "Committed" To Increasing Refugee Intake

Advocates want a dramatic increase in the number of refugees the U.S. is prepared to resettle – but they told BuzzFeed News they are skeptical there will be any major expansion.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 1:24 p.m. ET

Posted on September 9, 2015, at 12:23 p.m. ET

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

As European countries struggle to cope with a wave of people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday the U.S. was "committed" to lifting its refugee intake.

Advocates have criticized what they say is the Obama administration's "paltry" response to the crisis, resettling roughly 1,500 of the 4 million people displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning after a meeting on Capitol Hill, Kerry said the State Department will lift the overall number refugees it aims to resettle in the upcoming financial year. The department currently resettles 70,000 people from around the globe.

"We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take and we are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe," the secretary said, without giving an exact figure.

His words echoed comments a day earlier from White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said the international community was looking to the U.S. to see what action it would take to address the refugee crisis.

"We’ve already got a strong track record in terms of the contribution that we’ve already made to this response," Earnest said, "but we’re certainly mindful of the urgency around increasing the resources and response that’s necessary to confront this significant challenge."

Afghan refugees arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday.
Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP / Getty Images

Afghan refugees arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday.

Refugee advocates have called for the current overall target to be lifted to 200,000 – with 65,000 of those refugees from Syria alone to be resettled by the end of 2015.

The State Department is set to make a formal announcement on the new intake figure in the coming days.

However, multiple refugee advocates have told BuzzFeed News that they expect the administration will only lift the current target by a few thousand people.

"What we're hearing from State Department officials is that they're more comfortable with an incremental approach to the refugee ceiling," said Brittney Nystrom, advocacy director or the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "But that was weeks, if not months ago, and prior to the recent attention on what's been happening in Europe."

Erol Kekic, executive director for the CWS immigration and refugee program, said he would be surprised by an increase beyond a few thousand.

"If you look at the current crisis, that is, to say the least, offensive," he said. "We're missing out on a historical opportunity to continue to be a leader for battling suffering around the globe."

Both Nystrom and Kekic said their organizations had been planning petitions, awareness campaigns, and media events to capitalize on the global focus on the crisis, sparked by the deaths of 71 refugees in the back of a truck in Austria and haunting photos of dead refugee children on a Turkish beach.

"Part of the nature of advocacy is that the spotlight sweeps over your issue every so often, when you do have a chance that people are paying attention," Nystrom said. "For the 10 minutes that someone cares about refugees, then you can get them information and tell them what action to take to put pressure on lawmakers."