GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to send all Syrian refugees back home if he is elected to the White House, citing fears that some migrants could be Islamic extremists.
BBC reports that the billionaire businessman made his comments during a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
"I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back!" he told a cheering crowd of several thousand.
The Republican frontrunner explained, "They could be ISIS ...This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time. A 200,000-man army maybe, or if you said 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000, we got problems and that could be possible. I don't know that it is, but it could be possible so they're going back - they're going back."
At least four million refugees have fled Syria amid a four-year civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011. While the majority have fled to Europe, the United States government has announced it will increase the number of refugees it takes in by 15,000 over each of the next two years, bringing the total to 100,000 in 2017.
Trump's comments were made the same day Russia launched a series of airstrikes in Syria, their first military engagement outside the former Soviet Union since the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, notes a report from Reuters.
"Look, if Russia wants to go in there, [it] would have been nice if we went in as a unified front, to be honest. But if Russia wants to go in there and knock out ISIS (ISIL) and maybe stabilise, this big migration with 200,000 people into the United States..." Trump later told CNN news anchor Don Lemon.
"If I win, I'm going to say it right now and I'll say it to you, those 200,000 people - they have to know this and the world will hear it - are going back," he reiterated. "We're not going to accept 200,000 people that may be ISIS. We have no idea who they are. And I'm telling you now, they may come in through the weakness of (President Barack) Obama," but would return to their country if Trump makes it to the White House.
Meanwhile, a number of Christian groups are urging the U.S. government to significantly increase the number of Syrian migrants accepted into the country, as the flow of refugees continues to overwhelm European borders.
"Not only are Syrians resorting to desperate measures to seek a better life for themselves and their families in Europe, but they are dying in the process," International Rescue Committee president David Miliband said in a statement.
"The U.S. has historically been the world leader in recognizing the moral obligation to resettle refugees," Miliband added. "As the German government calmly says that it expects 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers in 2015, it is vital for the U.S. to step up its response."