Persecuted Christians from other nations will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States, said President Donald Trump in an interview Friday. His full remarks to Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody of The Brody File are slated to air Sunday evening on Freeform, as well as Monday on The 700 Club. The United States admitted a record number of 38,901 Muslim refugees in 2016, according to a Pew study, but nearly the same number of Christians, 37,521, also were admitted.
On Friday, Trump also signed an executive order explicitly freezing refugee applications from Syria, reports CNN, so it is not clear how his pledge to help persecuted Christians from that country will accord with the order.
Trump claimed it had been "almost impossible" for Syrian Christians to enter the United States and that these Christians have been treated unfairly in the refugee process, reports ABC News. Trump's new stance and approach has surprised many people, however, after he campaigned on the promise to cut down or stop the number of refugees entering the country.
Syrian Christians have been horribly treated, Trump said in a clip of the interview that was released Friday afternoon.
"Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them."
In the remarks released by CBN in advance of the full interview airing on Sunday, Trump did not give any examples or cite evidence to support his claim that it is more difficult for Syrian Christians to gain refugee status than Syrian Muslims.
According to the CIA World Factbook, as of June 2014, 87 percent of Syrians were Muslim while 10 percent were Christian. There were 1,380 more Muslim refugees from Syria who came to the United States last year than Christian refugees.
The Refugee Processing Center reports that in 2016, there were 15,302 Muslims who arrived in the U.S. from Syria and there were 93 people, also from Syria, who identified as either Catholic, Christian, Protestant or Jehovah's Witness.
"The Middle East is a region of extraordinary ethnic and religious diversity," said Chris Boian, the senior communications officer of the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
"UNHCR believes that any human being that has been forced to flee his or her homeland to escape life-threatening conflict and persecution should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance regardless of their religion, nationality or race," he told ABC News.
Many Christian groups that resettle refugees in the United States condemn the persecution of Christians overseas, but said the United States should not give favor to fellow Christians or bar Muslims. "We would resist that strongly," Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and one of nine agencies that partner with the federal government to resettle refugees.
"Some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now are Muslims. If we say no Muslim should be let in, we are denying the humanity and dignity of people made in the image of God."
Arbeiter said he and his group have tried unsuccessfully to meet with the new Trump administration to discuss refugee policy.
A study conducted by the libertarian Cato Institute found that between 1975-2015, the United States admitted approximately 700,000 asylum-seekers and 3.25 million refugees. Four asylum-seekers and 20 refugees later became terrorists and launched attacks on U.S. soil, reports CNN.