Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Syrian still stuck in transit at airport for more than a month

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR and JAKARTA

A 36-year-old Syrian has been stuck in transit in Kuala Lumpur for more than a month, he said, in a case that echoes the Steven Spielberg movie The Terminal.

Stranded at Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s budget terminal, Hassan al-Kontar has been posting videos of his daily life on Twitter and Facebook that have attracted the attention of human rights groups and the media.

Al-Kontar, who said he had been living at the airport since March 7, fears arrest if sent back to Syria, where a civil war has been raging for seven years.

“I am afraid of being deported to Syria, not because I’m a coward, not because I don’t know how to fight, but because I don’t believe in fighting,” he told reporters via Skype. “I don’t want to be a killing machine, destroying my own home and harming my own people.”

Reporters could not independently verify his account.

The Malaysian Immigration Department and the airport did not respond to requests for comment.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) confirmed meeting al-Kontar, but said it could not comment on individual cases.

“UNHCR is aware of this case and have reached out to the individual and the authorities,” said Yante Ismail, the agency’s spokeswoman in Kuala Lumpur.

A former insurance salesman, al-Kontar said he was living in the United Arab Emirates when war broke out in Syria.

He was deported to Kuala Lumpur in 2016, after the Syrian embassy in the United Arab Emirates refused to renew his passport, he said.

“They deported me to Malaysia, as it’s one of a very few countries which allows Syrians with no visa,” al-Kontar said.

It took him more than a year before he raised enough money to buy a ticket to Ecuador, but the airline refused to allow him to board.

He did not say how he raised the money.

Al-Kontar said he tried instead to fly to Cambodia, but was again rejected by immigration authorities and deported back to Kuala Lumpur.

He said he has been living in the terminal’s transit zone for 37 days, depending on the kindness of airport and airline staff for food and supplies.

“Things you never thought about as a problem become a problem in this situation,” al-Kontar said. “Where can you take a shower? What time? If you want to clean your clothes, where will you dry them?”

In the 2004 film The Terminal, Tom Hanks plays an Eastern European traveler stuck in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after his passport was revoked following a coup back home.

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