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Malaysia

Syrian refugee finally leaves Malaysia after seven months stranded in the airport

  • Hassan al-Kontar was arrested by immigration officials in October following months in limbo at Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s Terminal 2
  • His plight became widely known from social media posts showing him surviving on donated airline meals and washing in the toilets
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 5:42pm

A Syrian refugee who spent several months in limbo in a budget terminal at a Malaysian airport has arrived in Canada after being granted permanent residency by the country.

Hassan al-Kontar’s 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.

He had been stuck since March – blocked from entering Malaysia because of visa issues and barred from travelling to other countries, and was detained last month by immigration officials.

“I know I look like someone who ran from the stone or middle ages. I’m sorry for that,” the smiling 36-year-old said in a Twitter video on Monday, looking tired and stroking his bushy beard.

“For the last eight years, it was hard, long journey. The last 10 months, it was very hard and cold.”

After al-Kontar’s arrest, Malaysian officials had said they were going to work with Syrian authorities to deport him back to his war-torn homeland.

But al-Kontar’s lawyer Andrew Brouwer said the Syrian was brought 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 on 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.

In the video on his Twitter account al-Kontar said he was in transit in Taiwan and that he would be reaching his “final destination” the following day.

“I could not do it without the support and the prayers from all of you,” he said.

His is not the only case of an asylum seeker being left in limbo at an airport for a long period of time.

In 2015 an Iraqi family spent more than two months in an empty smoking cubicle in a Moscow airport, relying on passengers to bring them food and water.

His case also recalls the 2004 film “The Terminal,” in which Tom Hanks plays a man who finds himself stuck in a New York airport after his government collapses, rendering his papers useless.

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