The United States will take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday. President Barack Obama's decision signaled a decided policy change amid global pressure to aid the thousands of refugees streaming into Europe.

The number represents a significant increase in refugee intake for the U.S. Previously, the government said it had admitted just 1,500 Syrian refugees. The U.S. has donated more than $574 million to the Syrian refugee crisis, the most of any country, according to the United Nations.

Refugees have been fleeing Syria since the civil war began there in 2011. More than 200,000 people have died and there are more than 4 million displaced persons, most of them within the country. The 28-member European Union has been debating a policy solution to the worsening crisis as record numbers of refugees escaping conflicts and repressive states, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea, continue to arrive.