Marko Drobnjakovic / AP

As Europe’s crisis worsens, movement for US to accept refugees grows

Multiple petitions are circulating on the Internet requesting that the Obama administration accept more Syrian refugees

Tens of thousands of people in the United States and abroad have signed petitions calling on President Barack Obama to accept more Syrian refugees, as European governments continue to grapple with a massive influx of newcomers — most of them from war-torn Syria.

A petition that requires 100,000 signatures to be formally considered by the Obama administration had 47,463 as of 1:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday. The petition, launched on Aug. 31 has until the end of September to meet its goal.  

The Obama administration said it is "actively considering" ways to be more responsive to the global migrant crisis, including refugee resettlement. Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the National Security Council, did not elaborate on specific measures being considered, but said they included "refugee resettlement." Boogaard noted that the U.S. has provided over $4 billion in humanitarian assistance since the Syrian crisis began, and over $1 billion in assistance this year.

Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called for a "concerted global effort" to assist refugees fleeing their homelands.

"I think we need to have a broad-based global response," Clinton told the Associated Press. "The United States certainly should be at the table, but so should everybody else." 

Meanwhile, several other petitions have been launched on advocacy websites such as, calling on the U.S. to lift its limit on Syrian refugees as Europe struggled to cope with record numbers of asylum seekers. Almost 1,300 people of a 2,000-person goal had signed a petition — one of several — set to be delivered to Obama.

One petition signer, the Reverend Everett Shattuck, 59, a Church of the Brethren minister from Mill Creek, Indiana, said opening his home to refugees was part of the U.S. tradition of welcoming immigrants.

“Plus, we have to share some responsibility for that [war] because of our regime changes in the Middle East. Most of those refugees are a result of that,” Shattuck said, alluding to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But others, although welcoming refugees, worried that extremists could enter the U.S. along with those fleeing the fighting.

“I just pray that no terrorists disguised as a refugee tries to get in,” wrote Patti Perry of Cranberry Lake, New York.

The United Nations says 4 million people have fled the fighting since the start of the civil war in 2011. The U.S. has admitted about 1,500 refugees, and the White House said it was weighing responses to the crisis, including resettlement.

The head of the U.N.'s Geneva office, Michael Moeller, says U.N. members need to offset costs paid by Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and said the influx of Syrian refugees heading toward Europe was part of a larger, broader trend of mass migration worldwide.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Moeller urged a change in “the narrative” in receiving countries: “Not every refugee is a terrorist, or a criminal, or a job-stealer or whatever.”

He also cautioned migrants and refugees against thinking that they'll “end up — all of them — in Germany.” Germany has been among the most welcoming countries among European Union states.

European Union President Donald Tusk, speaking to the Bruegel Institute think-tank in Brussels on Monday, warned that the refugee crisis affecting Europe was part of an exodus from war-torn countries that could last years. 

Tusk, who represents the bloc's leaders, urged pragmatism and said member states must put aside their deep differences in facing the crisis.

In one of the latest scenes of desperation emblematic of a growing crisis, hundreds of angry and frustrated asylum-seekers broke through police lines Monday near Hungary's southern border with Serbia and began marching north toward Budapest, while Britain and France pledged to take in tens of thousands more refugees to try to ease the crisis.

The pledges came after Germany, which together with Austria accepted tens of thousands of refugees travelling via Hungarythis weekend, told its European partners that they too must take in more refugees.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after a weekend in which 20,000 refugees enteredGermany from Hungary by train, bus and on foot, described the scope of the migration as “breathtaking” and tried to reassure German citizens that the crisis was manageable.

The Vatican in recent days has also pledged to help. The chief priest of St. Peter's Basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, says efforts are underway to identify a family of refugees who will be cared for by the Vatican as part of Pope Francis' appeal for all Catholic parishes and religious communities to welcome in migrants.

Comastri said the family to be cared for by his parish will be chosen from among the newly arrived migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa. He said they will be housed in an apartment near the Vatican so they can take advantage of the Holy See's health care services and not burden the Italian state system.

In an interview Monday with the TV station of the Italian bishops' conference, Comastri said the other priority was to find work for the parents.

“Then we hope they can integrate themselves in the Italian and Roman fabric and can have a future,” he said.

Francis announced Sunday that the Vatican's two parishes — St. Peter's and tiny St. Ann's — would care for two migrant families and appealed for others to follow suit.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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