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Syrian national Hassan Al Kontar can not go beyond the transit zone.

PHOTO BY VICE NEWS


Ex-UAE expat stuck in Malaysia’s airport for more than a month

 

DUBAI – A Syrian man who left the UAE is stuck in limbo at Malaysia’s main airport in Kuala Lumpur for more than a month, according to a news report.

Hassan Al Kontar said he could not enter Malaysia as the government has not given him permission to live and work there, but airlines won’t let him get on the plane either.

“I’m stuck here in the transit zone. They did not allow me to enter,” Al Kontar told Vice News, which reported his predicament on Tuesday.

He has been calling the terminal home, for now, with a backpack that contains all his belongings. He sleeps on the floor, with just a red blanket as padding, underneath an escalator in a secluded area at the airport.

“It’s home now,” he said.

He uses the airport’s washroom to wash his face and hands. He longs for a towel, but says paper towels will do as “drying the towel will be a problem”.

Al Kontar left his home south of Damascus five years before the civil war started. He moved to the Gulf, looking for work opportunities.

“The first time I traveled from Syria was 2006 and until 2011 life was very good,” he said.

He found work in the UAE  and had a total of three jobs before his last company where he worked as insurance marketing manager fired him when his passport expired in 2012.

“My company could not renew my residence visa. I got fired. So from that point, my tragedy started,” he said.

According to Vice News, he was eventually deported from the UAE in 2017 and after getting a temporary passport, he ended up in Malaysia, one of the few countries that lets Syrians enter without a visa.

But since he wasn’t allowed to work there, he tried to leave. He said the airline refused to let him board a flight to Ecuador.

He also tried to enter Cambodia, but was repotedly deported back to Malaysia. At this point, he had overstayed the maximum 90 days he could be in Malaysia, which means he could not go beyond the transit zone.

He said returning to Syria is not an option as he fears he will be arrested for not completing the required military service.

“No one wants me. I am not that bad guy. It hurts me,” he said.

For now, he remains in limbo.

He said that Malaysian government officials came to the airport on Tuesday to discuss offering him a visa to stay as a Syrian refugee.

However, he has rejected the offer as it won’t give him full rights to work in the country. He reportedly wants to be granted permanent residency. Airlines still won’t let him board as he has yet to pass immigration, and his temporary Syrian passport is about to expire.

Refugee aid agencies in Malaysia, Canada and the United States have reportedly been in touch to help him.

Yante Ismail, UNHCR SPokesperson in Kuala Lumpur, said the agency is aware of the case.

“We have reached out to the individual and we continue to engage with the government to find appropriate solutions,” Ismail said in a letter to Vice News on April 17.

Plenty of people have made the obvious comparison of Al Kontar’s case to the 2004 movie, Terminal, which stars Tom Hanks.

The Syrian has been tweeting Hanks directly about his real-life drama. It is not clear if the actor has reached out to him.

On Vice News’ Facebook page, reactions to Al Kontar’s case are mixed. Some people have offered him help.

“He could come live with my husband and I in the states. He can work at my law firm. Real offer. Not sure that it helps though, given the current occupant of the White House,” said Justin Singleton.

Others blamed him for refusing to take Malaysia’s offer and prolonging his agony.

“I don’t think Malaysia should offer him any visa at all after this video. It is not his right to demand. He should be thankful to Malaysia because [they] offer generous refugee visa, but [he] rejected them. If he wants visa, he should go through all the procedure like everyone else,” said Fairus Tahar.

“Malaysia offered him status but he refused because it did not give him permissiom to work permanently? As an American, not even I can get such a pass. I guarantee you if he had ended up in America and was not allowed to work, he would happily accept the governments offer to live there freely… This man has a goal and Malaysia is not in his interest. Simple as that,” said Alex Graham.

Others said Al Kontar’s case may set a precedent if he is granted permanent residency (PR). “Now anyone who wants a PR status just have to set camp in the airport for a couple of months and get PR status,” Amy Ariff said. GAD/Expat Media

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