Assad blames West for refugee crisis

Syrian president says West has provided financial and military backing for opponents

 Syrian president Bashar Assad told western governments: “If you are worried [about refugees], stop supporting terrorists.”   Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Syrian president Bashar Assad told western governments: “If you are worried [about refugees], stop supporting terrorists.” Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

 

The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has blamed the Syrian refugee crisis facing Europe on the West’s financial and military backing for armed opponents over the past three years. In an interview with Russian media, Dr Assad, an ophthalmologist, said: “The West is now crying for the refugees with one eye and aiming at them with a machine gun with the second one.”

He added that western powers portrayed initial unrest in Syria as a “peaceful uprising”, then said the struggle was between the government and “moderate opposition”, before concluding the crisis was a war involving Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, both deemed “terrorist” groups by world powers.

The West, he argued, blamed the government for this state of affairs rather than supporters of the radicals. “As long as westerners follow this propaganda, they will have more refugees.” He denied refugees were fleeing his government and said they were escaping Islamic State, Nusra and other groups, which attack civilians, perpetrate killings, destroy infrastructure and deprive families of livelihoods.

Addressing western governments, he said: “If you are worried [about refugees], stop supporting terrorists.” Dr Assad called on Syrian political and armed opposition factions to join forces with the government in the battle against Islamic State and other extremist organisations. “We, the political parties, the government and the armed groups that fought the government . . . must all unite in the name of combating terrorism.”

He also urged all parties to take part in dialogue promoted by Moscow but said that political solutions can could not be implemented unless “terrorism is defeated,” a long-standing contention.

He praised Russia and Iran for their aid in fighting “terrorism”. Moscow has delivered both humanitarian aid and military equipment, including tanks, eliciting criticism from the US, which, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other western powers, insists Dr Assad must step down as part of a settlement.