AZRAQ, Jordan - Republican presidential contender Ben Carson visited two camps for Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert Saturday, in a quick "fact-finding" trip with no press coverage.
Carson's convoy rolled onto the Azraq refugee camp along a highway with heightened security, with each car being stopped and searched at a police checkpoint. After the visit, the convoy headed to the Zaatari refugee camp. Media were not allowed to accompany him on either visit.
Carson's campaign issued a statement and several pictures Saturday, describing a visit that the candidate began planning "just over two months ago" in order to "see with my own eyes this great human tragedy."
Carson also urged the United States to do more to help settle refugees in Jordan - and not to bring them to this country.
"Bringing 25,000 refugees to the United States does nothing to solve this crisis," he said. (It was unclear what that figure referred to, as President Obama has said 10,000 Syrians would be allowed into the U.S. in the next year, four times more than the total number admitted since 2011.) "Jordan already houses 1.4 million refugees. Jordan needs and deserves our help."
Carson said he will offer "real solutions" to the crisis in the coming days - a crisis, he said, "created in part by the Obama Clinton Administration's failed policies."
Carson "and a small group" are in Jordan "fact-finding, listening, learning and meeting," a campaign official wrote in an email Friday. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said no public or media events are planned.
Carson was not invited by the Jordanian government, and no official meetings were scheduled. However, the government and the U.S. Embassy in Amman were informed of the trip last week, the individuals familiar with the trip said.
The trip comes as Carson has faced harsh criticism about his lack of foreign policy expertise as well as his strong stance against admitting Muslim refugees, some of whom he described as "mad dogs," into the United States.
It also comes just a few days after Carson brought on a new adviser on faith matters, Johnnie Moore, who is known for his activism on behalf of Christians in the Middle East.
Moore, a former youth pastor at Liberty University, was most recently chief of staff to reality-TV creator Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey. Both are rare in Hollywood for their outspoken, evangelical faith. Moore worked with them on trying to help Middle East Christians, first focusing on trying to get evangelicals to support a solution in Iraq and Syria, then shifting to resettling people out of the region.
Messages for Moore were not immediately returned. He said this month in a Washington Post article about the religious politics of refugees that Christians should be a higher priority for Americans than Muslims because there are no nearby countries in the Middle East with large Christian populations where they can easily resettle.