Syrian man once stranded in Malaysian airport heads to Canada

Syrian man once stranded in Malaysian airport heads to Canada

Hassan al-Kontar speaking from Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport
Screen grab of an Instagram video showing Hassan al-Kontar speaking from Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport. 

KUALA LUMPUR: A Syrian man who was stranded in a Malaysian airport for seven months has been granted asylum in Canada.

Hassan al-Kontar, 37, was due to arrive in Vancouver on Monday evening, local time.

On Sunday, Hassan posted a video on Instagram during a layover at Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport. He described his time in limbo as a "hard, long journey".

"Tomorrow I will be reaching my final destination, Vancouver, Canada," he said in the video. "I could not do it without the support and prayers from all of you. I could not do it without the help of my family, my Canadian friends and family, my lawyer. Thank you all. I love you all."

Kontar's lawyer Andrew Brouwer said they brought the Syrian directly to the Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday before he was put on a Vancouver-bound flight.

Brouwer said his client was recognised by Canada as a refugee and was granted permanent residency under the country's refugee sponsorship programme.

"We were of course very pleased that Malaysia appeared to agree and abide by international law," he said.

Malaysia's immigration office said in a statement Tuesday that it had held talks "on the basis of concern and humanity... with the embassy of the country that agreed to receive his relocation," without naming Canada.

Hassan's Canadian sponsors are the British Columbia Muslim Association and Canada Caring Society, the report said.

Hassan earlier claimed he had stayed on at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) since Mar 7 because he feared he would be arrested and be forced to join the military if he returned to Syria. 

His plight became widely known after he shared posts on social media that showed him surviving on donated airline meals, washing and giving himself a haircut in the toilets at Kuala Lumpur International Airport's Terminal 2.​​​​​

Reports said that Hassan was arrested on Oct 1 for staying at KLIA2's restricted zone. He has been in a Malaysian detention centre for two months, BBC said.

His cause was championed by Laurie Cooper, a Canadian media relations consultant, The Guardian reported. Cooper and her friends raised funds through crowdfunding for his resettlement.

"I spent the day washing the sheets and making up the bed in my guest room for him," Cooper told the UK news outlet.

Kontar had been working in the United Arab Emirates when war broke out in Syria in 2011. He stayed on illegally in the UAE but was caught and deported to Malaysia in January 2017.

In Malaysia, he overstayed a three-month tourist visa and was blacklisted and could not re-enter the country.

He reportedly flew to Cambodia but was refused entry, then tried to fly to Ecuador but was turned away from the flight.

Following Hassan's arrest, the Malaysian authorities proposed to restrict the transit period for passengers at the international zones of both KLIA and KLIA2 to just 72 hours. 

Millions of Syrians have fled a devastating seven-year civil war that has left more than 350,000 people dead.

Source: CNA/AFP/na(hm)