Ottawa: A Syrian refugee who spent months in limbo in a budget terminal at a Malaysian airport has arrived in Vancouver after he was granted permanent residency by Canada, a government source and his lawyer said Tuesday.
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 Monday, looking tired and stroking his bushy beard.
“For the last eight years, it was (a) hard, long journey. The last 10 months, it was very hard and cold,” he added.
After 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 Kontar’s lawyer Andrew Brouwer said they brought the Syrian back 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 Tuesday 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.
– ‘No more airports’ –
In the video on his Twitter account 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.
In Vancouver, he was greeted by Laurie Cooper, who with the help of a group of residents in the ski resort of Whistler and the British Columbia Muslim Association, brought him to Canada and raised almost Can$15,000 for his fresh start.
Public broadcaster CBC said he looked “fragile in a blue T-shirt and jeans, his curly hair long and his beard unkempt” after disembarking.
“I’ve done my time in airports, no more airports,” he told the network after a sleepless flight across the Pacific.
“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.”
Looking at Cooper, he said: “When I was thinking of hope, her face was coming to my mind.”
Before climbing into a car and heading to Whistler, where a bed, fresh clothes and a hotel job were awaiting him, he whispered to himself: “I will be fine.”
Kontar is not the only asylum seeker who has been 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.
Kontar’s 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.