Syrian refugee who lived in Malaysian airport becomes Canadian citizen

Hassan Al Kontar was stranded for seven months in the Kuala Lumpur domestic transfer lounge

Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar tries to give himself a haircut in the bathroom at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he was stranded for seven months, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 21, 2018.  Photo taken August 21, 2018.  Courtesy of Hassan Al Kontar/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.  NO RESALES, NO ARCHIVE
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A Syrian refugee who lived in a Malaysian airport for seven months became a Canadian citizen this week.

In 2018, Hassan Al Kontar, 41, found himself stateless and stranded in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in the airport’s domestic transfer lounge.

But on Wednesday, after years of waiting, his situation was resolved,

“Today is a day like no other,” Mr Al Kontar tweeted. He posted photos of himself holding the Canadian flag while wearing a number of Canada-themed items.

“Wishing the same for every refugee in refugee camps.”

When he was unable to renew his UAE visa in 2017, Mr Al Kontar could not return to his war-torn nation.

Fearing an army draft or worse, he pleaded with authorities to be sent to Malaysia, one of the few countries which offer Syrians a visa on arrival.

But after his Malaysian tourist visa expired and he was denied entry to neighbouring Cambodia, Mr Al Kontar found himself stateless, living in legal limbo.

He began chronicling his life in the airport’s Terminal 2 domestic transfer lounge on social media. His posts garnered international attention and highlighted the limited options of Syrians wishing to leave their country legally.

He was detained by Malaysian authorities seven months later, before Canadian sponsors intervened.

He has now moved to Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

“This is a day that cost me a father, a destroyed homeland, prison, persecution, tears, blood, and fifteen years of being away from my loved ones,” Mr Al Kontar tweeted.

Since his arrival in Canada, Mr Al Kontar wrote a book about his journey, titled Man at the Airport: How Social Media Saved My Life – One Syrian's Story. He has also worked with the Canadian Red Cross, while continuing to advocate for refugees worldwide.

Updated: January 12, 2023, 11:40 AM
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