Nigel Farage has said Britain should offer asylum to Syrians fleeing the bloody civil war in their country - as long as they are Christian.
Speaking on BBC Radio 2 on Monday, the Ukip leader appeared to amend his earlier position on allowing in refugees by suggesting it should not apply to Muslims.
He said the 10% of Syrians who were Christian had been caught "in a middle of a civil war" and had nowhere in the Middle East to run to.
"It's bad enough for Sunni and Shia, at least there are neighbouring countries that will take them," Farage said. "Where on Earth are the Christians going to go? Christians are now a seriously persecuted minority ... they are under assault from all sides."
Farage's decision to argue in favour of letting in victims of the civil war prompted a harsh backlash on the Ukip Facebook page. With party members unhappy at the idea of allowing people into the country.
The Ukip leader added in a statement posted online: "Christians are being increasingly persecuted across the Middle East and Syria as extreme Islamist elements seek to purge the region of Christianity. If we do not help these people then who will? We must as a nation help Christians who are fleeing Syria to escape death and torture by allowing some to come to the UK."
Church leaders in Syria have claimed that at least a third of the country's 1.75 million Christians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the war.
A spokesperson for the party told The Huffington Post UK that criticism of its policy that Syrian asylum seekers should be welcomed or turned away based on religious faith were unfounded.
"Given that refugees are processed on need it is entirely appropriate that people fleeing religious persecution and civil war between religious factions in their home country have their religion taken into consideration. It is common sense to do so," the spokesperson said.
Farage. Avoid taking non-Christian refugees from Syria by getting everyone to wear a badge showing their religion. Yellow stars for Jews etc— David Schneider (@davidschneider) December 30, 2013
Asylum for Syrians, Farage-style: Starving terrified Christian kids to the right, Starving terrified Muslim kids to the left(behind)— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) December 30, 2013
The government is under pressure from Labour as well as Tory and Lib Dem MPs to change its policy and allow in more Syrian refugees.
Tory health minister Earl Howe broke from the government line this morning and told the BBC that Downing Street should think about changing its mind. “We have got to look at this urgently. There are people in desperate need. We can’t accommodate them all. I think the European Union has a duty to look at what it can do but both on the ground in Syria, but also looking at whether we can accommodate some of them, " he said.
Following Farage and Howe's interventions, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said the idea of taking in 500 or 1,000 refugees was "tokenistic" as it would not solve the wider problem affecting "millions" of Syrians.
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "Britain's contribution to the humanitarian crisis there is equal to all other 27 EU countries combined, we are putting a massive amount of effort into a country where one third of people have been displaced."