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In Berlin, John Kerry Bumps Up Number Of Refugees U.S. Can Accept


Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that in the next two years, the U.S. will increase the number of refugees it will accept annually to 100,000. That will be 30,000 more than what the U.S. takes in now, but it represents only a fraction of the number of asylum seekers European nations are dealing with, especially Germany, where Kerry unveiled his plan.


SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We're doing what we know we can manage immediately - what we feel we can do by working within the system we have and within the challenges that we have budget-wise. But as soon as we have an opportunity to try to up that, we're welcome because America has always welcomed bringing more people in in these kinds of circumstances.

RATH: We go now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. And, Soraya, explain this U.S. plan and the challenges Secretary Kerry was referring to.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, the plan involves raising the limit on refugee visas, which will go up to 85,000 in the fiscal year that starts next month. And that, in turn, would allow the White House to fulfill its pledge to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees over the next year. And then the following year, in fiscal year 2017, the refugee cap is going to go up to 100,000. But the problem is there are requirements after 9/11 that require the vetting of refugees in a very thorough way, and that costs a lot of money which Congress has to approve. And for the current cap of 70,000 refugees, for example, that cost is about $1.1 billion.

RATH: Now, how are Europeans reacting to the American plan?

NELSON: Well, there's probably going to be some criticism. I mean, it's a little early yet to have the full specter of it. But the problem is in Europe, of course, they're dealing with so many more asylum seekers that 30,000 more over two years seems like a drop in the bucket. You're looking at Germany, for example, which is expecting upwards of 800,000 this year. But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was with Kerry when he unveiled his plan, says this isn't the time to criticize the U.S. over refugee numbers or vetting procedures. He says more important is to address why so many people are fleeing in the first place, especially from Syria. And Steinmeier says that's something Germany and the U.S. agree on.

RATH: There are reports of more boats sinking in the Mediterranean this weekend with Europe-bound migrants on board. What can you tell us about that?

NELSON: Well, the Greek coast guard says it's searching for 26 migrants that are missing off of the island of Lesbos after their boat sank today. Twenty other passengers were rescued. And then another dozen are still missing from an earlier sinking, and they're also being sought. For migrants who did make it and are heading north and west, there was a little bit of good news from Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, which opened their borders at least somewhat. What they are doing basically is putting people on buses and on trains and then sending them to Austria. This weekend, they were talking about 20,000 people arriving and another 10,000 are expected in the next 24 hours or so. Austrian authorities, meanwhile, they just couldn't even contend with this number. They gave up trying to register people. And it's important to note that most of these people will continue north to Germany and some of them even beyond that.

RATH: Quickly, Soraya, is there a sense of if the influx has slowed down, stayed the same?

NELSON: It seems to be the same. I mean, when the others closed the border - when those other countries that I mentioned, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia - when they started doing the border checks, that did diminish the number somewhat. But basically, it just rerouted people, and they're still coming. I mean, so many people have crossed the Mediterranean. They continue to come, especially in a rush to try and avoid the colder months which are - of course, are coming.

RATH: That NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Soraya, thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Beginning in October 2015, Arun Rath assumed a new role as a shared correspondent for NPR and Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News. He is based in the WGBH newsroom and his time is divided between filing national stories for NPR and local stories for WGBH News.
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