After being stranded in Malaysia for almost 9 months, 37-year-old Syrian man, Hassan Al Kontar, has finally been granted asylum in Canada. Mr Al Kontar was stuck in Kuala Lumpur Airport from 7 March 2018 and on 1 October 2018 was subsequently detained in Malaysian immigration centres for a further 2 months, whilst awaiting a decision on his fate. Al Kontar had been stranded in Kuala Lumpur’s arrivals terminal after being refused permission to board a plane.
In a video message uploaded on Twitter Al Kontar expressed his gratitude by saying,
“The last 10 months it was very hard…I could not do it without the support and prayers from all of you.”
Hassan Al Kontar had been stranded at KLIA Kuala Lumpur’s airport, but his story started in the UAE from where he was deported in October 2017 due to expiry of his work visa. He then decided to travel to Malaysia, but was refused a visa that would have permitted him to stay there for an extended period of time. He then tried to get to Cambodia, but was also refused entry. In an interview in April 2018 he even described trying to get to Ecuador, one of 35 countries into which a Syrian national can travel without needing a visa, but he was then stopped from boarding a Turkish airlines flight.
Whilst in the airport Hassan started to document his life trapped in an airport terminal. His Twitter page gained solid support, reaching over 18,000 followers. Hassan’s followers were enthralled by his attempt to live an everyday existence from inside an airport terminal. Some of the posts included him trying to cut his hair in an airport bathroom, to taking up knitting, reading and other activities to pass time.
Hassan’s supporters were so enamoured by his story that he received numerous offers of assistance, including a camping mattress that was sent to him by supporters after 50 days of sleeping on chairs and a blanket. His plight turned him into an accidental social media star, and even led to a number of marriage proposals from women all around the world that wanted to help him. However, Al Kontar rejected the offers, and also stated that he had no desire to become a social media star.
On 1 October 2018 Hassan was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport and detained for being in a “forbidden area” of the airport. On 5 October he was transferred to the Malaysian Department of Immigration, but fortunately had contact with his lawyer and the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) during that time.
Hassan was at risk of being deported back to Syria, his home country but one that he has not visited for almost 9 years. Earlier this year he feared his return to Syria would mean conscription into the military to fight in the protracted and ongoing conflict against his fellow Syrians. He said,
“Sending me to Syria is a death sentence.”
Had he returned to Syria, Hassan would have faced prison and have been at risk of torture and other ill treatment for refusal to enlist in compulsory military service; a criminal offence in Syria. Amnesty International supported Hassan not being deported to Syria, and in an urgent action statement issued 11 October 20
18 they said,
‘Amnesty International’s research in Syria has revealed widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses constituting crimes against humanity. As such, Amnesty International opposes returns to Syria in all cases except where they are voluntary.’
Community Sponsorship scheme
Mr. Al Kantar is an example of why community sponsorship of refugees is important. Two organisations have sponsored Hassan to go to Canada as a refugee, resulting in his arrival in Canada on the evening of 26 November. His sponsors are the British Columbia Muslim Association, founded in 1966, and the Canada Caring Society. The Canada Caring Society had been campaigning for Hassan for some time, and by October 2018 had managed to raise over $20,000 CAD to sponsor him.
In a statement released last month the Canada Caring Society also confirmed that a job had also been secured for Hassan prior to his arrival. Arrangements were made in efforts to ensure Hassan’s liberty and a campaign was launched in conjunction with Amnesty International to secure his status.
In a Canada Caring Society statement published dated 8 October 2018, Laurie Cooper, one of Hassan’s sponsors and a volunteer with Canada Caring Society, said,
“Hassan is in danger of being deported to Syria where he would face definite imprisonment and worse….We have raised over $20,000 to sponsor him. He has a full-time job offer at a hotel in Whistler. And he has close relatives living in Canada. We cannot afford to wait any longer, the risk is too great.”
Upon his release Lauren Cooper of the Canada Caring Society said,
“I’m very grateful that Canadian officials, when Hassan was truly in peril, worked very, very hard to expedite the process,”
“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.”
Watch IOHR TV’s video about Community Sponsorship of refugees in Canada: