Syrian man stuck in Malaysian airport for 7 months granted asylum in Canada

"For the first time in 122 days they open a door for the outside world and I could feel the heat and breath a fresh air."

Hassan Kontar, a Syrian man stuck in an airport in Malaysia for several months, landed in Vancouver on Monday, after gaining asylum to Canada. (PHOTO CREDIT: Screenshot; Hassan Kontar, Twitter)
Hassan Kontar, a Syrian man stuck in an airport in Malaysia for several months, landed in Vancouver on Monday, after gaining asylum to Canada. (PHOTO CREDIT: Screenshot; Hassan Kontar, Twitter)

The Syrian man who has been stranded in an airport for seven months has finally been granted asylum in Canada.

Hassan al-Kontar arrived in Vancouver late Monday night, where he was welcomed by many of the people who worked to sponsor him as a refugee for resettlement.

Kontar had been in stranded in Malyasia’s Kuala Lumpur international airport since March 7, when he was prohibited from boarding a flight to Ecuador and denied permission to board a flight to Ecuador. He was subsequently prevented from entering Malaysia, leaving him marooned in the airport’s transit zone.

Kontar originally left Syria in 2006 to avoid military conscription and moved to the United Arab Emirates, where he worked in insurance on a work visa that expired in 2011. Still fearful of being forced into the military should he return home, Kontar remained in the UAE without a valid visa for another five years as the civil war in Syria quickly unraveled. He was eventually arrested in 2016.


UAE authorities deported him to Malaysia, where, unlike many other countries, Syrians are able to get a visa upon arrival. Kontar obtained a three-month tourist visa and worked to earn enough money to fly to Ecuador. But in February, when he showed up for that flight, he was turned away. He flew to Cambodia instead, but was denied entry, forcing him to fly back to Malaysia again. This time, however, he wasn’t allowed to enter Malaysia because he had overstayed his visa.

With no money, and no real option of returning home to Syria, Kontar was essentially stuck in an airport terminal.

He posted on social media about his new life in an airport terminal as the days became weeks, and the weeks became months.

“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,” he told The Guardian in April. “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. I don’t want to be killed as well. It’s not my war.”


His social media posts got the attention of people all over the world, including a media relations consultant in Whistler, Canada.

Laurie Cooper and a group of her friends petitioned Canada’s immigration minister to have Kontar resettled in Canada as a refugee. According to The Guardian, they set up a crowdfunding campaign and raised more than the $13,600 required to privately sponsor a refugee in Canada.

Last month, Cooper and many others following Kontar’s story were concerned after Malaysian authorities arrested him for being in a restricted part of the airport without a boarding pass. At the time, officials said he would be deported to Syria, and worries mounted after Kontar’s prolific Twitter updates abruptly halted on October 1. He spent nearly two months in a Malaysian detention center.

On Monday, however, he tweeted a video from Taiwan’s Taouyan International Airport.

“The past is no longer with us,” he said in the video, announcing his move to Canada. “What is important is today and tomorrow, the present and the future.”

“I did not believe it until they showed me the ticket,” he told the CBC, about his first reaction when he was told he would soon be able to leave. “I said until I reach Canada, nothing is sure.”


“For the time being, I need a hot shower for the rest of the day,” he said. “I’ve done my time in airports, no more airports. I’d rather use a horse if there’s no car.”