A Syrian refugee who was stranded in a Malaysian airport for eight months has finally arrived in Canada after being granted asylum.
Hassan Al-Kontar’s plight gained global support when he began posting regular videos on social media from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he was stranded in 2017 after being deported from the UAE where he was working.
Two organisations, the British Columbia Muslim Association and Canada Caring Society, sponsored him to come to Canada as a refugee. An online an online petition Canada’s immigration minister to allow him entry garnered over 62,000 signatures.
“I did not believe it until they showed me the ticket,” he told reporters on his arrival, describing the moment he was told he’d be getting out. “I said until I reach Canada, nothing is sure.”
Breaking news ✌✌ pic.twitter.com/o2vQGROBdS
— Hassan Al Kontar (@Kontar81) November 26, 2018
He could not renew his Syrian passport because he had not completed compulsory military service at home, but he did not want to return, fearing he would be arrested or made to join the military.
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that grants Syrians visa-free entry on arrival, but when it expired, he attempted to go to Cambodia. However, he was refused entry into the country and deported back to Kuala Lumpur; Al-Kontar became stranded in the arrivals terminal of the airport.
The 37-year-old Syrian originally from Suweida spent months living rough in the terminal, surviving on food donated from airline staff.
Malaysian authorities also briefly arrested Al-Kontar last month, during which time he was regularly threatened with deportation to Syria.
Not much is known about his release was secured, other than the fact that Canadian government and a lawyer, hired by Canada Caring Society volunteer Laurie Cooper, negotiated his release.
Al-Kontar called his team of Canadians his “Avengers,” referring to the Marvel comic book superheroes.
“In Canada, here you have something very special, you have an amazing group of people who believe they can make a difference, and they can.”
Cooper also expressed her happiness at seeing Al-Kontar free but said that he was one of many refugees facing similar challenges.
“His situation is just representative of the challenges faced by all refugees around the world. It’s getting harder and harder for them to find a safe place to live. He’s one of the lucky ones.”
Al-Kontar is headed to Whistler, near Vancouver where he’ll initially be living with Cooper. He has also been offered a full-time job at a Whistler hotel.