US presidential candidate Ben Carson describes Syrian refugee camps as 'quite nice'

US Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a campaign event in Nevada
US Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a campaign event in NevadaPHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON(REUTERS) - Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said on Sunday that he found a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan to be "quite nice" and that people there would rather stay or return home to Syria than come to the United States.

But Carson, one of the leaders in the polls in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, offered few details in a round of television interviews from Jordan about how he would work to defeat ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) militants and stabilise Syria to enable the refugees' return.

After meeting with refugees at a camp in Jordan, Carson, 64, told CNN that "their true desire is to be resettled in Syria".

"But they are satisfied to be in the refugee camps if the refugee camps are adequately funded. Recognise that in these camps they have schools, they have recreational facilities that are really quite nice. And there (are) all kind of things that make life more tolerable," he added.

Speaking from Jordan, Carson also defended comments he made earlier this month in which he compared Americans' attitude towards Syrian refugees to fears of a rabid dog.

"The Syrians and the people here completely understood what I was saying," Carson told NBC's "Meet the Press". "It's only the news media in our country that thinks that you're calling Syrians dogs. They understand here that we're talking about the jihadists, the Islamic terrorists."

Carson and other Republican presidential candidates have criticised President Barack Obama's plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, citing the risk that militants could slip through. The Obama administration has emphasized the refugee program vetting process.

A retired neurosurgeon who has faced scrutiny over his foreign policy credentials, Carson visited the Zaatari camp for refugees fleeing Syria's civil war, and said he also spoke with medical personnel, humanitarian workers and government officials.

In an interview with ABC's This Week, Carson called for increased US aid for regional refugee efforts such as those in Jordan.

He said believes that greater contributions to such facilities in the region could eliminate security risks associated with granting US asylum to Syrian refugees.

"I believe that the right policy is to support the refugee program that is in place, that works extremely well but does not have adequate funding," Carson said. "If you do that, you solve that problem without exposing the American people to a population that could be infiltrated with terrorists who want to destroy us."

Journalists were not invited to join Carson, who arrived in Jordan on Friday.

Carson said that ISIS should be defeated quickly and criticised the current US strategy as "piecemeal".

"I think we need to work in close conjunction with our Department of Defence, with our Pentagon, with our experts," he told NBC. "Ask them what do you need in order to accomplish this? And then, let's make a decision."