The US has improved refugee processing times to help meet its target of resettling 10,000 Syrians, Congress has heard. The program has been plagued by red tape, legal efforts to stop refugees arriving and security fears.
The United States has "just about crossed the 5,000 mark" in terms of Syrian refugees, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday.
He said 5,000 to 6,000 more have been "conditionally approved" for US resettlement, subject to security checks, adding that he thought the target of 10,000 refugees would be met by October 1.
Last September, in the middle of the European migrant crisis, President Barack Obama called for a dramatic increase in the number of Syrian refugees permitted to stay in the US.
His demand followed revelations that Washington had admitted just 1,500 refugees since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
Plan was blocked
But despite setting a 10,000-refugee target, the process has been held up by bureaucracy, terror fears and Republican-led congressional efforts to block refugee flows.
Revelations that some of the main suspects behind the Paris and Brussels attacks had arrived in Europe along with genuine migrants through the Balkan route has fed fears about terrorists possibly landing in the US.
Several politicians including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have warned against allowing in Syrian refugees, warning that the "Islamic State" militant group aimed to infiltrate the US through migrant flows.
But Johnson insisted Thursday that Washington had "added security checks to the process where they are warranted" and overcome early hurdles.
Last year, Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton said that Washington should expand the Syrian resettlement program to 65,000 refugees amid calls for the US to do more.
Efforts 'must be renewed'
Meanwhile on Wednesday, The US ambassador to the United Nations criticized wealthy nations that are failing to help those fleeing war. Samantha Power said just 10 countries were hosting some 45 percent of the world's refugees at the end of last year.
"Even as the crisis continues to grow, many countries are making no effort at all to do their fair share," Power said. She added that calls to halt refugee programs over security concerns were "misguided."
The US is due to host a summit on refugees and migrants in September, when it will ask other countries to step up and take in more people.
mm/kl (AFP, AP)