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Obama Says U.S. Prepared To Allow 30 Percent More Refugees Next Year


The Obama administration says it is planning to boost the number of refugees it takes in by tens of thousands this year. It's in talks with Congress about that, and the news comes as President Obama prepares to lead a summit on refugees at the United Nations next week. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N. is struggling to cope with the highest number of refugees since World War II. Sixty-five million people have been uprooted by war. Twenty-one million of them have crossed international borders.

And it's not just the conflict in Syria that is driving this. Conflicts around the world are stretching the U.N.'s Refugee Agency. The agency's Asia director, Daisy Dell, says only a tiny fraction of the world's refugees are formally resettled in programs like the U.S. one, but any bit helps.

DAISY DELL: Resettlement in a way is a burden-sharing mechanism that shows that the international community cares that everybody understands that there are large populations in the country that need solutions. And I think for the countries concerned, it really makes a difference.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members of Congress this week on plans to bring in 110,000 refugees up from 85,000 in this fiscal year. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest wouldn't say how many would be from Syria but points out that refugees go through more security screenings than any other traveler to the U.S. And he says it's important for the U.S. to do this.


JOSH EARNEST: The president believes that the United States has a responsibility as a leader on so many issues around the world to play an important role in bringing refugees to the United States.

KELEMEN: The president will be asking other countries to do more when he chairs a summit on refugees next Tuesday at the U.N. The U.N. is also hosting a meeting the day earlier where the UNHCR's Daisy Dell says member states will renew their commitments to the 1951 convention on refugees.

DELL: That's been challenged by a number of countries in the world right now.

KELEMEN: In her region, she's struggling with Australia, which has been turning away undocumented migrants, sending them off to processing centers on tiny Pacific island nations.

DELL: Illegal arrival does not disqualify you from being a refugee. In World War II, most of the Jews did not have passports and visas when they were leaving and sort of trying to find protection. So we disagree with Australia that you're disqualified because you don't have proper documentation.

KELEMEN: Dell is hoping that the meetings at the U.N. next week will draw attention to this and raise more financial pledges. She says the refugee agency's budget for Asia has dropped by a third as resources shift to the Middle East and Syria. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.