WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States plans to raise the number of refugees it takes in by 5,000 next year to 75,000, including an unspecified number from Syria, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday, and congressional aides said the total may go significantly higher.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters at the Capitol, said Washington was "committed to" taking in more Syrian refugees fleeing war in their country.
A senior State Department official, speaking on a conference call with reporters later, said the United States had taken in about 70,000 refugees a year over the past three years and was planning on "some sort of a modest increase" next year.
Several U.S. officials confirmed that Kerry told lawmakers that the government was planning on taking in an additional 5,000 refugees next year.
Congressional aides said administration officials had indicated that number could go significantly higher.
"I think they finally recognise that an additional 5,000 is not a serious response," said one aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The State Department official said the administration planned to increase the number of refugees it takes in from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those affected by conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"When we talk about increasing overall numbers, we're talking about increases for people from around the world," the official said, adding: "In addition to bringing in more Syrians, which is the plan, we would like to admit more African refugees next year." The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Since the start of the four-year-long Syrian civil war, the United States has taken in 1,500 refugees, with 300 more expected to be cleared by October.
European countries have taken in waves of migrants fleeing violence. Germany allowed 20,000 in over the weekend and is preparing for 800,000 this year.
"We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take and we are looking hard at the number that we specifically can manage," Kerry told reporters.
Some U.S. lawmakers are pressing the administration to do more about the crisis.
The senior State Department official said Kerry had spoken with his German counterpart over the past 24 hours.
"My sense is that Europeans are so focussed right now on this on a day-to-day basis that they're not really looking to us yet to help them, but we are thinking about what we can do to be helpful," the official added.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)