- Hassan Al-Kontar, a 37-year-old refugee from Syria, had been living in the transit area of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for about seven months and was stuck in diplomatic limbo.
- Al-Kontar vlogged often about the struggles of being trapped on his own with little access to the outside world.
- But on Monday night, he was finally free.
- Al-Kontar touched down in Vancouver, Canada, where citizens had raised money and worked for months to secure his release from Malaysia.
- He now heads to Whistler, British Columbia, in order to begin his new life.
Hassan Al-Kontar had been trapped in the transit area of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for about seven months, vlogging often about the struggles of being stuck on his own with little access to the outside world.
Unexpected visitor showed up today.????
I don't remember it last visit, but I now know how much it means to me.❤
Sun is here ????????.
It's not like I took a sunbath or tanning on the runway ???? but it's still lovely to finally meet (feel) again pic.twitter.com/SPxCay1Ozd
— Hassan Al Kontar (@Kontar81) September 27, 2018
Al-Kontar arrived at KLIA2 after years of fighting to secure a better life abroad as a Syrian citizen. He had spent time working in the UAE for over a decade, but eventually lost his work visa and was later unable to renew his passport.
The ordeal sent him to a holding facility in Malaysia in January 2017. He tried to save money and leave Malaysia on two occasions in 2017 – once to Ecuador, another time to Cambodia – but was rejected each time and sent back to a country he did not choose to live in.
In March this year, after being blacklisted by Malaysia for overstaying his visa, he was confined to the airport’s transit zone, trapped in diplomatic limbo.
But on Monday night, that all finally turned around.
“They came to me on Sunday and said ‘you’re going to Canada.’ I did not believe them until they showed me the ticket,” Al-Kontar told CBC News after touching down in Vancouver airport.
The 37-year-old told Business Insider that during his time in the airport, he spent his days reaching out to government agencies, volunteers, NGOs and media to get assistance in the hopes of eventually leaving the airport and finding residency in a country that accepted refugees.
He faced several obstacles as he tried to figure out a long-term solution. He claims Malaysia only offered him temporary visas without the guarantee of work-rights; in October, he was arrested and sent to a detention center in the country for two months.
Still, he says he never lost hope for a better future.
“Deep inside I had full faith, even when I was in detention,” he told CBC after his emotional homecoming on Monday. Laurie Cooper – a Canadian volunteer who worked with lawyers, the B.C. Muslim Association, and others to lobby for Al-Kontar’s long-awaited release – gave him the first hug during an emotional homecoming.
“I just feel so grateful that he’s here and that he’s safe,” she told CBC. “I never doubted for a moment that we would get him here.”
Cooper, a resident of Whistler, British Columbia, raised the money required to sponsor his arrival. According to CBC, Al-Kontar will initially be living with Cooper, and has also been offered a full-time job at a Whistler hotel.
“In Canada, here you have something very special, you have an amazing group of people who believe they can make a difference, and they can,” he said.