[UPDATE]: Syrian man stuck in KL airport for six months arrested, most likely will be deported

Hassan al-Kontar via Twitter
Hassan al-Kontar via Twitter

Police confirmed at a press conference today that Hassan al-Kontar, the Syrian man that had been claiming refugee status at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 since March, has been arrested by authorities.

His story hit headlines earlier this year, after Hassan, who had previously lived and worked legally in the United Arab Emirates, found himself in limbo with few options left after he was denied entry into Cambodia, as well as denied boarding on a Turkish Airlines flight to Ecuador, where he was hoping to claim asylum. Hassan had claimed that he could not re-enter Malaysia as he had previously overstayed his visa in the country.

Speaking with a representative from the United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR), they have stressed that Hassan is registered with them as a person of concern, and is in need of international protection.

They have not had access to him, and are requesting his immediate release, and that the Malaysian authorities “respect international laws relating to his situation, in particular, the principle of non-refoulement, aka not forcing a refugee or asylum seeker to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali revealed that the Syrian national was detained Monday after entering a “forbidden area” of the airport.

“Flight passengers with boarding passes at the boarding area are supposed to get on their flight. But this man did not do so. He is situated in a forbidden zone, therefore the authorities had to take the necessary action,” he said.

Considering that Hassan has never had a boarding pass, nor was the “forbidden zone” he entered ever specified, one cannot help but wonder if his presence, and the embarrassing press (internet hug Nas Daily even covered his plight, yo) that surrounded his long-term living at KLIA2 wore away at the patience of officials.

“His statements on social media shamed Malaysia,” Mustafar told Bernama.

After police questioning, Hassan will be referred to the Immigration Department, who will then communicate to the Syrian Embassy, to coordinate his deportation.

Offering little sympathy, Mustafar told reporters: “The man claimed that he does not want to return to Syria because he is afraid of becoming a soldier there, or whatever his real reason is. We need to have closure here.”

An unfortunate ending for a man whose plight was often likened to the Tom Hank’s film The Terminal, often by people who probably didn’t watch the movie, but understood the concept of being “stuck” at the airport. While Hank’s character was stateless in the film, Hassan’s predicament was more nuanced: He was still a Syrian citizen, and his imminent return to the war-torn country was always a risk.

Coconuts KL spoke with several individuals familiar with the case, and while none would go on record, we were made to understand that assistance had been offered to Hassan, though in what capacity we do not know. However, Hassan denied these claims and others last month in a Twitter post.

When Coconuts KL spoke to Hassan in March and April of this year, he openly rejected the idea of staying in Malaysia when we asked him: The country did not offer refugees permanent status, he explained. Hassan was looking for a “third country solution,” as he called it. This contradicts his September Twitter status.

Speaking to the UNHRC, we asked for their reaction to his claims.

“Both UNHCR and the Government of Malaysia have reached out to this individual on a number of occasions,” they told us. “Offers of support and assistance in Malaysia have been previously communicated to him by the Malaysian authorities, a Malaysian NGO partner, and UNHCR on different occasions.”

It is not clear why Hassan would deny this.

His active social feed, complete with almost daily musings from inside the airport’s halls, also included a pinned petition at the top of his page to the attention of Canadian immigration authorities, asking that they make an exception, and offer him asylum. He has since taken it down.

Canada was a long shot, a hail Mary, and one that ultimately fell short.

Having spoken with criminal lawyer Ravin Jay, “Hassan may have been trying to force a move by one of the relevant parties, either the United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR), or a third country, but that didn’t quite work out,” he believes.

“There are processes in place to deal with the issue of asylum seekers which is handled here in Malaysia by the UNHCR. By trying to force the hand of a third country to take in someone who decides to remain in a departure lounge — or arrival lounge, or whatever the case may be — could potentially open the floodgates to others hoping to try the same thing. This would then be a cause of concern for the relevant authorities.”

Hassan had originally sought refugee status after a civil war in Syria left him liable to be conscripted into the Syrian army, where he would have to “fight my own people.”

Coconuts KL has reached out to Malaysian Immigration for comment.


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