Syrian man trapped in KL airport after seeking entry, fears deportation and death back home

Hassan Al-Kontar, a young Syrian trapped in Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA 2 international airport, has taken to Twitter in a last-ditch effort to find a country that will allow him to enter.

In one of 14 videos he’s now posted, Al-Kontar explains that he left Syria eight years ago, and since then a warrant was issued for his arrest. Al-Kontar told Coconuts KL that the warrant stems from his avoiding compulsory military service — a fact we have not been able to independently verify.

Speaking to MSN, Al-Kontar said going back would almost certainly mean conscription into the army of longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad, a scenario that could see him tossed into a bloody civil war that has so far left an estimated 400,000-500,000 Syrians dead.

During a series of messages with Coconuts KL this afternoon, Al-Kontar revealed that he is 36 years old and from the Druze religious minority, which makes up about 3.2% of Syria’s population. He lived in the United Arab Emirates from 2006, working there until the Syrian embassy in the UAE refused to renew his passport.

In the first of his videos — published March 12, when he had been living at the airport for just five days — Al-Kontar explained that after the UAE refused to re-up his residency visa, he continued to quietly live there illegally, rather than risk returning to the civil war now raging back home

When authorities caught up with him in 2016, he was first sent to a deportation facility, then forwarded on to Malaysia, one of the few countries to offer visa on arrival for Syrians.

Having entered Malaysia on a three-month tourist visa, he once again found himself without legal standing when that expired in January 2017. After saving money in Malaysia for a year, he was finally able to buy a plane ticket out of the country to what he thought was a safe haven: Ecuador.

The tiny South American country is one of the few other countries that require no visa for Syrians. But when officials from Turkish Airlines refused to let him board, he was forced to forfeit his US$2,800 plane ticket without refund, a move that essentially wiped him out financially.

With seemingly nowhere to turn, he then decided to try his luck in Cambodia, another country Syrians are theoretically free to enter. But there, he says officials told him that while they could, in theory, issue a tourist visa, he did not have enough money in his bank account to warrant immigration clearance.

In an interview with Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post newspaper, he put his experience there in blunt terms.

“They took my passport. They humiliated me actually – they took a photo of me standing against the wall like a criminal,” he was quoted as saying.

Cambodian officials then returned him to Malaysia, where — blacklisted from entry for overstaying his previous visa — he has been stuck in limbo ever since, wandering the gates of the transiting area in KLIA2.

Al-Kontar’s latest video, from April 8, tells his followers in Arabic about his day-to-day routine after having now spent 35 days wandering the transit area.

 

“Doing laundry is difficult, even when you can wash something in the bathroom, there’s nowhere to dry it,” he says, explaining the drab reality of living in an airport.

What’s still unclear is the exact particulars surrounding his case and why no aid has been forthcoming as of yet from refugee agencies. In his video, Al-Kontar claims to have approached multiple embassies and refugee organizations to no avail.

Today, perhaps spurred on by his Twitter campaign, Al-Kontar said he finally met with officials from The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Today they [UNHCR] came and met me,” he said in a message to Coconuts KL. “They are going to study the file but they have no time period or no guarantee about the result… so I dont know how long this may take, and it may take long time.”

Coconuts has reached out to UNHCR for more information regarding Al-Kontar’s case and we will update this story when we hear back from them.

At the moment, with his future hanging in the balance, Al-Kontar feels the videos are the only way to get his story out to the wider world

In one clip, he asks himself what it feels like to be a Syrian in the world today.

The answer is bleak: “Lonely, weak, unwanted. No one is accepting us.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new information provided by Hassan Al-Kontar.

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