The Obama administration is moving to increase and accelerate the number of Syrian refugees who might be admitted into the United States by opening new screening outposts in Iraq and Lebanon, administration officials told Reuters on Friday.
The move comes after President Barack Obama pledged in September to admit an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, torn by four years of civil war and disorder.
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The U.S. State Department confirmed the plans to open a refugee settlement processing centre in Erbil, Iraq, before the end of 2015, and to resume refugee processing in Lebanon in early 2016, said spokeswoman Danna Van Brandt.
The White House would not say how many additional refugees it may take in beyond the 10,000, but two senior administration officials said they are seeking ways to increase the number.
Suitable for resettlement
"We want to be in a place where we can push out really ambitious goals," said one of the officials, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
The State Department runs nine screening centres worldwide that serve as meeting points for refugees and U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees who have to decide who is suitable for resettlement in the United States.
The additional centres will double the number available to refugees in the Middle East.
Most Syrians are now screened for potential U.S. resettlement at centres in Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. The new centres are designed to "increase the channels" the United States has for reaching Syrian refugees, the official said.
Amid a tide of refugees in Europe, some congressional Democrats and refugee advocates say the United States should do more for Syrians who often make dangerous journeys to lands where they have no home or means of employment.
However, some Republicans have raised concerns that allowing more Syrians into the United States jeopardizes national security.
Arab, BRIC nations urged to do more
In another development, Anne Richard, U.S. assistant secretary of state, told C-SPAN's Newsmakers program on Friday that wealthy Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as the so-called BRICs emerging market nations should do more to help Syrian refugee.
"I would like to see more aid come from the Gulf states that are in the Middle East area and are relatively wealthy compared to Jordan and Lebanon," she said. "We would also like to see more from the so-called BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, China and, to a lesser extent South Africa," she added. "These are the wealthy states that care about the region that could and should be doing more on the humanitarian side."
About 250,000 people have died and an estimated four million driven abroad as refugees because of the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 with protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has evolved into a full-blown civil war. The majority of the refugees have flowed into neighbouring nations such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon but hundreds of thousands have also made their way to Europe.