A Syrian man who spent seven months stranded at an airport in Malaysia after being refused a visa, has been granted asylum and permanent residency in Canada.
In a video shared on Twitter, Hassan al Kontar, 37 - who arrived in Vancouver, Canada, in the early hours of Tuesday morning - thanked his family, friends and lawyers in helping him leave Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, where he had been living since March.
Looking exhausted, the Syrian national told his 20,000 followers on Twitter:
“The last 10 months, it was very hard. I could not do it without the support and prayers from all of you. Could not do it without the help of my family, my Canadian friend’s family, and my lawyer. Thank you all. I love you all. I will keep you updated."
He continues, saying:
Let’s keep the prayers for those who still need it the most, in refugee camps and detention camps all over the world, I hope they will be safe and legal as soon as possible, too
Al Kontar had been diligently documenting his experience on social media since he first became stranded at the airport on 7 March. In a series of tweets, short videos and pictures, he shared where he slept, how he ate, and even where he “exercised”.
During his time at the airport, al Kontar missed his little brother’s wedding, wasn’t allowed outside and was never able to sleep with the lights off.
This was his bedding situation.
Dreams Vs reality 🔜🔜
#airport_is_my_home https://t.co/bvP9srhouu https://t.co/apvJeTfGnE
The Syrian’s struggles began back in 2012, when he refused to join the army in Syria. Al Kontar, who was working in the United Arab Emirates at the time as an insurance marketing manager, was declined a new passport because of his decision, meaning his work permit could also not be renewed.
Then in October 2017, he was apprehended by UAE officials and sent to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is one of the only countries that accepts Syrian citizens without a visa for up to 90 days. But once his visa expired in March, 2018, and he tried to board a plane to Ecuador in the hopes of receiving asylum there, he was denied access by authorities because he had overstayed his visa.
This resulted in the Syrian being “stuck in a limbo” and living out the life of Tom Hank’s character in The Terminal for real.
His constant social media updates soon started to garner international attention, as al Kontar struggled to receive help.
His tweets also caught the attention of Canada Caring Society volunteer Laurie Cooper, who made it her mission to help him receive asylum. The British Columbia Muslim Association and the Canada Caring society succeeded in sponsoring for him to come to Canada as a refugee.
"It was a unique and very difficult situation. We are really grateful to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and to the Canadian officials who worked so hard to resolve Hassan’s predicament," Cooper said in a statement.
We are proud that Canada was willing to step up and help Hassan when so many countries around the world are closing their doors to refugees
“We are completely relieved by the outcome,” al Kontar's lawyer Andrew Brouwer told NBC. “What happened to Hassan is emblematic of what it’s like to be a refugee. He is one of the millions up on millions of refugees out there – people stuck in limbo like he was. It is very important for Hassan that people realise that.”
As news of Hassan arriving in Canada came in, so did the relief of his 20,000 supporters who have been following his activities since he first became stranded at the airport.
@Kontar81 From the bottom of my heart, I extend you the warmest welcome to Canada. It is my sincerest hope that you… https://t.co/kVniI7GUne