Syria's first man in space says European nations should help remove President Bashar Assad from office to bring an end to the refugee crisis.

Gen. Mohammed Faris, a 64-year-old Soviet-trained cosmonaut, fled the civil war Syria in 2012 for Turkey to join the Syrian opposition, becoming one of his country's highest-ranking defectors.

Faris, a refugee himself, told The Associated Press in an interview: "I tell Europe if you don't want refugees, then you should help us get rid of this regime."

Faris made history in 1987 when he became Syria's first cosmonaut — and a national hero — spending almost eight days in space.

Now based in Istanbul, he gives talks at universities and schools on his experiences in space.