BERLIN The Obama administration will increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts each year to 100,000 by 2017, a significant increase over the current annual cap of 70,000, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.
"This step that I am announcing today, I believe, is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope," Mr. Kerry said, adding that it "will be accompanied by additional financial contributions" for the relief effort.
The American move, announced after Mr. Kerry held talks in Berlin with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, still falls far short of the global demand for resettlement from people who continue to flee turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
"This kind of piecemeal, incremental approach is simply not enough to effectively address this crisis," said Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, an advocacy group that has been pressing the United States to take 100,000 Syrians alone next year. "This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II."
Four million Syrians have fled to other countries, and hundreds of thousands of others from the Middle East and Africa have been pouring into Europe. Mr. Kerry said the United States would explore ways to increase the overall limit of refugees beyond 100,000, while carrying out background checks to ensure that their numbers are not infiltrated by terrorists.
"We still need to do more, and we understand that," Mr. Kerry said at a news conference with Mr. Steinmeier.
Under the new plan, the limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.
The United States has taken in only about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict there more than four years ago. American officials said that the Syrians accepted in the next year would come from a United Nations list of about 18,000 refugees.
The three largest groups of refugees admitted last year were from Iraq, Somalia and Bhutan. Syrians were at the bottom of the list of nationalities. Refugees are people who have fled their homes to escape war or persecution (and can prove it), while migrants more generally may be relocating for economic reasons.
In their meeting, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Steinmeier also focused on ways to end the war in Syria, where 250,000 people have died and 12 million have fled their homes in the past four and a half years. In addition, Germany and the United States will try to rally support next week at the United Nations General Assembly for a significant increase in aid to United Nations refugee camps in the countries neighboring Syria, Mr. Steinmeier said.
The American response is unlikely to relieve much of the pressure on European countries, particularly Germany, which remains the most desirable destination for most of the migrants. Other efforts to address the crisis, such as agreeing to distribute migrants equitably among European Union members, have foundered so far, and in the absence of a unified and effective policy, the migrants have been left to find their own way across the Continent.
Germany recently has been under pressure from a seemingly unstoppable influx of migrants, and it reinstated border checks a week ago to better manage the crowds. The flow from Austria slowed over the weekend to less than 2,000 registered arrivals each day, according to Lars Rebel, a spokesman for the German federal police.
But Austria received about 20,000 newcomers over the weekend on its eastern border with Hungary. Most "still want to go to Germany, their great goal, their great dream, their great vision," said Alexander Marakovits, a spokesman for Austria's Interior Ministry in Vienna.
At least 10,000 arrived or passed through Sunday at the small Austrian village of Nickelsdorf, a city in the state of Burgenland near the border with Hungary that links Budapest to the east and Vienna to the west, Mr. Marakovits said.
The main highway linking the two cities was closed amid concerns that crowds of refugees would spill into traffic. Although everyone insisted the flow was manageable, the director of the state's police, Hans Peter Doskozil, hinted at the strain.
"In the worst case, if there is no shelter, then the buses can go on the highway and make a kind of sightseeing tour," Mr. Doskozil told the Austria Press Agency, "as crazy as that sounds.
"But they must drive away, so that the others see something is happening," he added. "Otherwise you can't hold the crowd back anymore."
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Gerry Foitik, head of the Austrian Red Cross, said his volunteers would probably manage to accommodate most migrants somewhere in Austria on Sunday night. But he said about 5,000 might remain in and around Nickelsdorf.
Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Steinmeier in Berlin at Villa Börsig, a palatial German guesthouse overlooking a lake. Later they met with a small group of Syrian refugees, who asked not to be identified by journalists out of concern for friends or relatives still in Syria.
The Syrians, asked by Mr. Kerry why the surge of migrants had been so great in recent weeks, said they had despaired of being able to return home and that life in refugee camps was becoming harder as food rations were cut back.
"The reason people are coming now is because they gave up hope completely," one woman said.
One man asked: "Are not five years enough for the international community to intervene, especially the United States?"
Asked at his news conference why the United States could not accept more Syrians more quickly, Mr. Kerry said that budget constraints and vetting requirements established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks limited the scope of the response.
"We are doing what we know we can manage immediately," he said. But he did not rule out the possibility that more might eventually be done.
Along the migrant trail, those who had appeared boxed in on Friday stranded in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary somehow managed to continue their trek. With help from the Serbian authorities, who made no secret of their policy of pushing them through as fast as possible, most of the migrants who had been thwarted at the Hungarian border made their way west into Croatia.
From there, some continued toward Slovenia, where the authorities said around 2,500 had crossed the border by Sunday morning; the Croatians took a larger number to the Hungarian border in the northeast.
In Hungary, angry officials, who have been struggling to extend a razor-wire fence at the Serbian border to include the Croatian frontier, received the arrivals, packed them on trains and buses and moved them quickly to the Austrian line. The authorities there were allowing them to enter 5,000 on Saturday alone.
The authorities in Slovenia, meanwhile, were halting migrants at the border with Croatia to the south and allowing them to pass in small groups, taken by bus from border crossings at Obrezje and Rigonce to several locations around the country.
By Sunday morning, the crowds had diminished, with only about 300 people waiting at the huge Obrezje crossing, and only about half as many in Rigonce. Those who continued to straggle toward the border from deeper inside Croatia were simply allowed through by the Croatian authorities, leaving it up to the Slovenians to stop and process them.
The Slovenians took the migrants, one busload at a time, to a processing center in Brezice, a few miles from the border. There, they were registered but not fingerprinted. Slovenia is a member of the European Union, as is Croatia, but unlike Croatia it also is part of the Schengen accord, which allows passport-free travel but encourages strong external borders.
Illustrating how hard it is to keep the refugees from their main goal Germany only seven migrants had requested asylum in Slovenia by Sunday. The rest were taken to six refugee centers around the country. From there, many simply decided to make their own way north toward the Austrian line, where a few hundred had crossed by Sunday morning.
Michael R. Gordon and Alison Smale reported from Berlin, and Rick Lyman from Ljubljana, Slovenia. Reporting was contributed by Somini Sengupta from the United Nations; Palko Karasz from Graz, Austria; Emmarie Huetteman from Salzburg, Austria; Barbara Surk and Kristina Bozic from Ljubljana; and Bostjan Videmsek from Obredje, Slovenia.