A Syrian Refugee spent more than eight months living in the transit zone of a Malaysian airport.
37-year-old Hassan Al Kontar is one of many Syrians who fled the country after war in Syria broke out in 2011.
Previously Kontar worked as an insurance marketing manager in the United Arabs Empire from 2006 to 2012.
He left is home in Syria for UAE in 2006 in order to avoid being called into mandatory military service. The Syrian government later refused to renew his passport after war broke out.
“I’m not a killing machine and I don’t want any part in destroying Syria,” he told the BBC.
After his passport expired, Kontar’s work permit also became invalid.
After staying in the UAE, he was arrested and told to leave the country. He flew to Malaysia, one of the few countries where Syrians have a chance of obtaining a visa.
There he was granted a three month tourist visa and immediately began working to save up sums to fly to Ecuador, however; when he showed up for his flight to Ecuador in February, he was turned away at the gate for reasons that remain unclear.
Kontar flew to Cambodia instead, with the attempt to avoid deportation to Syria, but he arrived only to be sent back to the Kuala Lumpur International airport in Malaysia.
He arrived back in Malaysia, but could not enter the country because he outstayed his visa. At that point, Kontar had no other options than to live in the “arrivals” section until a country accepted him.
Kontar spent the next several months documenting his life over video and posting them to Twitter. Some videos consisted of himself tending to his potted plants, talking about his favorite books and films, crocheting stuffed animals, and him using the moving walkways as a treadmill.
He had no access to the outside world and longed for fresh air. Despite the grimness that came with living at the airport, he still was able to eat leftover chicken and rice dinners given by compassionate airline staff and able to shower in the public washrooms.
Among his fan base was a woman named Laurie Cooper from Whistler, British Columbia who came across Kantar’s videos and felt a strong inclination to help the man.
“It all seemed impossible: I’m just a woman who lives in a little log cabin and he was living in an airport,” Cooper told The Guardian.
Cooper, a volunteer for Canada Caring Society partnered with British Columbia Muslim Association to petition for Canada’s immigration minister to admit Kontar as a refugee.
Cooper and the two organizations managed to raise over $20,000 for his sponsorship and found him a full-time job at the city hotel.
Cooper and these Canadian organizations gathered their resources, but among the rallying came a roadblock. Malaysian authorities arrested Kantar for staying in a restricted area without a boarding pass and held him in a detention center and threatened him with deportation.
Panic reigned over Cooper, those working for the organizations, and Kontar.
Cooper and the other Canadians urged Canadian officials to speed up the resettlement process, fearing he would be deported back to Syria.
Miraculously, Kontar was released. He sent a text to Cooper saying he was on his way.
Before Kontar got on the plane to Vancover, he posted a video to Twitter during a layover in Tawian this past Monday. “I could not do it without the help of my family — my Canadian friends and family and my lawyer. Thank you all. I love you all,” he said.
Upon arrival Kontar hugged Cooper while trying to hold back his tears. “I just feel so grateful that things worked out and that he’s here and that he’s safe,” Cooper told reporters at the airport.
“I never doubted for a moment that we would get him here,” she added.
Kontar is now staying at Cooper’s house, enjoying his bed and warm clothes donated by community members. Overall, Cooper is thankful for his safety and glad the process came to an end.
“It was a unique and very difficult situation. We are really grateful to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and citizenship and to the Canadian officals who worked so hard to resolve Hassan’s predicament,” she said in a public statement.
“We are proud that Canada was willing to step up and help Hassan when so many countries around the world are closing their doors to refugees.”