man asleep in airport

Back in 2018, a Syrian refugee found himself stranded in a Malaysian airport for seven months. He could not leave the airport out of fear for his life, but five years later, he became an official Canadian citizen. 

Hassan al-Kontar fled Syria over a decade ago due to the ongoing civil war and initially resided in the United Arab Emirates. He stayed and workday there until 2017, when he was forced out of the country due to an expired visa. 

With his options limited, Mr. Al-Kontar took the only one available, which meant he wouldn’t have to return to Syria. That option was to fly to Malaysia as it was one of the few countries in the world he could get to that allowed Syrians to enter without a visa and stay for 90 days. 

Once his “free” 90 days in Malaysia were up, he tried to fly to Ecuador and Cambodia. Sadly, he failed in both attempts. Upon arriving in Cambodia, officials took his passport and sent him on the first flight back to Malaysia. With no passport to his name, and no visa, all that was left for him to do was to live in the airport. 

A return to Syria at any point would have meant either being conscripted into the army or being imprisoned. With that as the only alternative, he set up a base in Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s domestic transfer terminal.

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The Journey to Getting Canadian Citizenship

During his seven-month stay at the airport, Mr. Al-Kontar recorded a series of video diaries and posted them on the social media platform Twitter. Very quickly, the videos attracted interest from people across the globe who wanted to help and support him. 

In the end, a selection of people in Canada stepped up to the plate. The Canadian government allows groups and individuals to sponsor refugees. This means they can put forward the funds to cover a refugee’s first year in the country. The sponsors are also required to provide social support to the refugee. 

The British Columbia Muslim Association offered to sponsor and support Mr. Al-Kontar while a group of three other anonymous Canadians lobbied the governments in Malaysia and Canada to allow him to move to British Columbia. 

On the 26th of November 2018, Mr al-Kontar flew to Vancouver International Airport to begin his new life in British Columbia. He was initially admitted as a permanent resident of Canada, but yesterday (1/11/23), he posted on Instagram to confirm that he was now an official Canadian citizen. 

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A Long Time Coming

Over the past four years, Mr. Al-Kontar has been exceptionally busy. He has raised awareness of the struggles that refugees all over the world endure daily, written a book about his experiences, and worked for the Canadian Red Cross. Most importantly, he has managed to help his family escape Syria and move to Egypt. 

Additionally, he has continuously strived to improve his skill set. He has undertaken several online courses and currently works in flood recovery. 

He will forever be grateful to Canada for taking him in, and when he first landed in the country five years ago, he said, “the minute I put a foot in Vancouver airport, I felt the difference.”

His time in Canada hasn’t been all plane sailing, though. He missed his niece’s birth and could not go to his Father’s funeral after he passed away in 2016. 

This article was produced by The Impulse Traveler.

Andrew Delaney
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