Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will increase the number of refugees the United States accepts each year to 100,000 starting in fiscal year 2017, an increase of 30,000 from the current level.
It's anticipated that many visas will go to Syrians, displaced by a four-year-old civil war that's driven millions out of that country.
But refugee groups and African immigrant advocates are optimistic that displaced Africans could benefit, too: For years, those migrants have been fleeing civil strife, and ethnic and religious persecution in nations like Somalia, Eritrea, Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. Like refugees from Syria, many African migrants have lost their lives at sea as they try to reach Europe.
“African nations are also dealing with a crisis of displacement," said Tia Oso, a Los Angeles-based activist with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. "And so my hopes are significant that we will really take a look globally at this crisis of displacement, and really lend resources and relief in the areas that we know that we can.”
U.S officials haven’t released details yet on who will get the additional refugee spots. The U.S. plans to accept 10,000 Syrians in the coming year.
"The reports are that they'll be from different countries, primarily Syria, but there's been no formal announcement," said Martin Zogg, who directs the Los Angeles office of the International Rescue Committee, a refugee relocation organization.
Zogg is confident there will also be a focus on Africa, however, "because of the need, and because of the fact that some refugees that are migrating up through Europe are from Eritrea, Somalia and other places in Africa....you have the movement of large numbers of people seeking refuge as the result of long-term conflict. “
According to Oso, there are roughly 160,000 immigrants from Africa in the L.A. area.
Among them is a relatively large group of Nigerians. Refugees have been leaving Nigeria, some driven out by an insurrection carried out by the Boko Haram militant group in the north.
Tom Mbeke-Ekanem of Fontana is with a local Nigerian ex-pat group. He said he's tentatively optimistic, but that he hopes migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are given equal treatment with those from the north.
"If they are opening up to refugees from Africa, Africa should be treated as one," Mbeke-Ekanem said.