In a scene reminiscent of the hit movie The Terminal, A Syrian man has been forced to call Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) his home for the past month.
Hassan al-Kontar (above), 36, was left stranded by airlines and immigration officials in February and has been spending the past 37 days living at the transit section of the airport, sleeping under stairwells and showering in a disabled toilet room.
He claims he can’t return home as he fears getting arrested for refusing to join military service.
“I don’t know what to say or what to do. I need a solution, I need a safe place where I can be legally, with work.
“Syria is out of the question, even if I am staying here forever. I don’t want to be part of the fight, I don’t want to kill anyone.
“It is not my war,” he was quoted saying by The Guardian, who spoke to him from behind the glass barrier to the airport’s arrival corridor, which he cannot cross.
Hassan’s troubles began when he was deported from the United Arab Emirates, where he had worked in the marketing and energy industry up to 2011, when the Syrian civil war caused him to lose his work permit.
He arrived in Malaysia in January 2017 but overstayed on a three-month visa-free period.
His latest situation arose in February this year when he was denied entry at the last minute on a Turkish Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Ecuador. It was reported that both Malaysia and Cambodia then denied him entry, hence his predicament.
With dwindling savings, Hassan eats the chicken-and-rice meal provided by Turkish Airlines, while occasionally splurging for fastfood meals or coffee brought to him by airport cleaners who charge him RM10 for the delivery service.
Hassan has been trying to get out of the airport, by sending emails to rights groups and uploading daily video diaries onto Twitter, but is finding it hard to focus.
“You’re worried about your family (and) all these psychological pressures you have but most of the time you are trying to solve your temporary issues,” he said.
Hassan also claimed there are similar stories of Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Syria getting stranded not only in Kuala Lumpur but also in Bangkok and Istanbul since the war began.
“It is not only my problem. It is the problem of hundreds of Syrian guys who feel they are hated, rejected, unwanted, weak, lonely,” he said.
Also speaking to The Guardian, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson called on the government to give the UN’s refugee agency full access to Hassan to look into his refugee status, as well as provide humanitarian assistance and ensure he is not detained by immigration authorities.
“Malaysian authorities continue to say they are concerned about the bloodshed and horror being inflicted on civilians in Syria’s ongoing civil war, but cases like Hassan’s will demonstrate whether Malaysia is prepared to back that rhetoric with real action,” Robertson said.
A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Yante Ismail also confirmed to The Guardian that they have reached out to Hassan and the Malaysian authorities but could not comment on individual cases.
In the 2004 The Terminal, a European man, played by Tom Hanks, finds himself trapped in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport as he is unable to both enter the United States and return to his native country due to a military coup.