The United States will welcome at least 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria in the next fiscal year, the White House announced on Thursday, representing a near seven-fold increase over the 1,500 refugees accepted on American soil since the civil war broke out in the Middle Eastern country over four years ago.
At a briefing in the White House on Thursday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the U.S. also planned to encourage other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere to "ramp up" their humanitarian efforts in the region, as well as their willingness to take in Syrian refugees. The announcement comes amid increasing pressure from human rights groups for President Obama to do more to help the millions of displaced Syrians, who are flooding into neighboring countries at an unmanageable rate.
"It's clear there's a significant need," Earnest said. "[M]any of these camps are starting to reach capacity, and that's why you're starting to see people who are -- whose needs are not being met in these areas now considering traveling even further to places like Europe."
Over four million Syrian refugees are already living in neighboring countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.) The vast majority of those refugees live outside of formal camps, where they often experience abject poverty. With no sign of a political solution to the conflict in sight, the UNHCR has warned of deteriorating conditions inside Syria and rising despair among its inhabitants.
"Inside Syria, the last few months have been brutal," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said during a recent press briefing in Geneva. "Fighting has intensified in almost all governorates."
The UNHCR -- as well as 14 Democratic senators, who sent a letter to Obama on the crisis earlier this year -- have called on the U.S. to accept tens of thousands of refugees, a commitment closer to other nations'. Germany, for example, has talked about taking upward of 800,000, according to The New York Times. But onerous screening procedures in the U.S. have made it difficult to accept more refugees. Typically, it takes 12 to 18 months for the Department of Homeland Security to determine if a refugee is eligible to be resettled in the U.S., Earnest said Thursday.
Despite that slow process, Earnest added, "I don't anticipate at this point that we would have a significant problem in trying to meet the ambitious goal that the president has laid out for admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees next year."